By Susan Berry.
When I was a child, even more than the lights and sounds at Christmas time, the aromas were the most wonderful. The delicious scents coming from our kitchen meant it was Christmas time and those scents seem to be the frame that held all the other wonderful traditions in our home together.
One of those aromas that always came from the kitchen on Thanksgiving and Christmas was the smell of a mincemeat pie baking in the oven. My mother was of Irish descent and she had her grandfather in her life until she was in her mid-twenties and he into his eighties. He emigrated with his family from Tipperary, Ireland straight to Boston when he was a young boy. I imagine that is where her introduction to mincemeat stemmed from and at an early age. I don’t remember my father eating the pie my mom made on the holidays. He was Italian. But I do remember my older siblings eating it and yes, my mom. I, as a child, hated it, I confess. I was never one to take to raisins and even though mincemeat has many other fruits in it, as a child it seemed all I could taste was the raisins, BLUKK!
Mincemeat has a very old history. There are recipes dating back to the 15th century that can still be found in records or in historical prints. It is believed mincemeat originated in England, Ireland and other British countries. The original purpose of mincemeat was to preserve meat and stretch the meat available to last through the winter by mixing it in vinegar and spices with suet added to this. The meat was minced very fine and combined with figs, currants, raisins, beef suet, sugar, spices and vinegar.
As the centuries passed and recipes were passed down from one generation to the next, preserving meats became less of a necessity and the meat was eventually taken out of many mincemeat recipes. Though suet did remain a constant ingredient mostly fruits were used with spices. Vinegar was also replaced in recipes by brandy or rum.
Original mincemeat pies were made in hand held size for portability and freezing. In the 17th & 18th centuries Victorian homes made fruit mincemeat sweet, as a dessert rather than as a savory dish with meat in it. It was then that the pies were made larger to be served to many people at one time and presented with other desserts. Mincemeat was often reserved for Christmastime only. I can remember my mom telling me about the suet and that being the trigger that also made the pie unappealing to me. Many years passed and as I became an adult without mincemeat pie in my holidays, my fondness was for apple or pecan and so those were my traditional pies that I made during the holidays for my family.
As I grew from a suburbanite to a homesteader my canning repertoire expanded and one day while browsing through a new canning book I had purchased I discovered a recipe for fruit mincemeat. I suddenly found myself longing more for the aroma than the taste of a mincemeat pie. I had also discovered over the years other recipes that called for mincemeat such as bar cookies and a wonderful Italian fig cookie that would be suited to mincemeat filling as well. So I ventured into making my own version of mince-fruit, as I like to call it. My first attempt at mince-fruit was wonderful. The preparation was very nostalgic for me and I remember how it smelled while cooking on the stove. When I removed the first jars from the canner pot I was amazed at how it looked exactly like the mincemeat I remembered from my childhood. The taste was so wonderful and the knowledge that it had no suet in it made it even more delicious for me. My mother would be proud, I had finally acquired a taste for mincemeat pie.
It is best to plan on making this recipe in September or October since it will taste better after having a few weeks or months to mellow and take on the flavor of the spices and brandy. This recipe is intended to be canned in a water bath canner and will make approx. 4-5 quarts. A one-quart jar is perfect amount for a nine inch pie shell. Mixture could be frozen in gallon freezer bags after completely cooled if canning is not preferred. To use, simply remove from freezer and allow to thaw at room temperature before making pie or using in other recipe. Let’s get started.
Here is what you will need
4 lbs granny smith apples
4 lbs bartlett pears (ripe but still firm)
1 C golden raisins
1 C currants
1 C craisins
Grated rind and juice of one orange
1 C finely chopped walnuts
2 C brown sugar
1 C apple cider (juice, NOT vinegar)
1 C brandy
1 tsp allspice
2 tsp nutmeg
½ tsp ground cloves
- Measure out all spices, juice, brandy and sugar, set aside in separate measuring cups and bowls.
- Grate orange rind and squeeze juice, set aside. Discard remaining orange.
- Chop walnuts, set aside.
- In large heavy bottom pot, pour apple cider, orange juice, orange rind, brown sugar, spices and ½ C brandy.
- Peel, core and finely chop apples. Place immediately into pot and toss to coat with orange juice and brandy mixture.
Remove core from pears by cutting in half first and cut core out. I do not peel the pears because I like the sweetness and texture the peels add to the recipe. If you prefer, they can be peeled. Dice pears same as apples and add to mixture in pot. Add chopped walnuts.
Turn heat on to med high to bring mixture to a gentle boil. Lower heat to medium, stirring often and cook until mixture begins to darken, sugar is dissolved and fruit begins to break down and get tender. Some of the fruit will begin to come to an applesauce consistency with some chunks remaining. This is the point I stop the cooking process. Remove pot from heat and add remaining ½ C of brandy, stir to mix. Mixture should mound when dropped from spoon and have small amount of liquid.
While mixture in still hot fill cleaned and sterilized quart canning jars. Seal and process in hot water bath for 40 minutes.
The jar on the left in this photo was last year’s mince-fruit and the jar on the right is this years. You can see how it darkens with time, though the color will vary depending on your fruit and spices. The flavors will blend beautifully in a couple of months. By Christmas you will have a delicious homemade mince-fruit worthy of our wonderful Colonial New England heritage.
I hope you enjoy this recipe and make it one of your family traditions.
Susan Berry is a Horticulturist/ Farmer and Homesteader. She and her husband Don live on a ¼ acre aptly named Itzy Bitzy Farm with their two dogs and twelve hens. Susan raises organically grown heirloom asparagus crowns till established at three years old and raspberry plants to sell to home gardeners. You can follow Itzy Bitzy Farm’s blog by signing up at www.itzybitzyfarm.com