A ‘Brit’mas tradition

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I was a junior in high school the year my mother announced that we would try our hand at making “homemade mincemeat.”

I had only the vaguest idea what mincemeat was. I knew I kind of liked mincemeat pie (not as much as blueberry, but way more than rhubarb!) but I had no idea what the gooey substance inside the crust actually consisted of.

Imagine my surprise to discover that mincemeat — AUTHENTIC mincemeat, not the canned, bland store version — actually contained real meat! And… (and this is the part that disgusted my sensitive teenage palate) that, properly made, this meat concoction must sit around the house for a several weeks … unrefrigerated.

Uh … What, mom?

One of my best friends in high school was British and she not only endorsed my mother’s cockamamie plan to allow meat to ferment on the kitchen counter, she also provided her mother’s time-honored olde English recipe.

“It’s a tradition in our family. You’ll love it,” she assured me.

I still remember slicing up large chunks of beef and beef fat (suet) and dumping them into one of my mother’s brightly colored Pyrex mixing bowls. The meat was carefully folded into a sea of brightly colored fruit peels and chunks, then generously doused with brandy (which did make the mess smell a darned sight better!)

holly sprig

Still puzzling was the requirement to LET IT SIT for several weeks before using. My mother explained that we needed to stir it every day, periodically adding more brandy, rum or sherry. We weren’t much of a drinking family but, man, I loved the rich, boozy smell that wafted up from the bowl every time we lifted the spoon! Mom further cautioned that the marinating meat must be stirred clockwise in order to ensure good luck for the coming year (counter-clockwise would have the opposite effect, so my sister and I were very careful to stir wisely).

Additionally, she explained, we should make a wish each time we stirred. I can’t remember if my wishes came true (I was probably wishing that no one got salmonella from eating 3-week-old unrefrigerated meat!) but I vividly remember stirring that strange mixture every evening before dinner.

Then, just before Christmas, mom announced that it was time to begin baking!  We made mincemeat pies, and tarts, and cookies, and my mouth still waters when I think of that rich, hot, citrusy and, yes, deliciously alcoholic blend of pure holiday ecstasy.

It tasted far better than I could have imagined and, most of all, we had started a very memorable family tradition! It has been many years since I made or tasted real, homemade mincemeat. Mom discontinued the labor-intensive project after my sister and I left home. I tried it once in my mid-20s then chickened out on eating the fermented meat (I was a less hearty soul back then.)  But running across this recipe recently inspires me to possibly try again for the 2017 holidays…or maybe sooner. A good mincemeat pie knows no season!

I’ve included my high school pal’s family recipe below. Let me know what you think if you decide to make this! And if you are squeamish about letting it sit out for several weeks, I would recommend refrigerating it. Don’t know how, or if, that will change its consistency but it still has to be better than the stuff in jars or cans off the store shelf!

Mrs. Keen’s Traditional Mincemeat Recipe
1/2 lb beef
1/2 lb suet
1/4 lb citron
3/4 lb candied peel
1 lb apples
1 lemon
1 orange
1/2 lb sugar
1/2 lb currants
1 lb raisins
1 tablespoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup brandy
1 cup dry sherry additional brandy or sherry wine
(optional) or rum (optional)
Directions:
1. Put meat, suet, citron, peel, peeled and cored apples,
lemon and orange through the meat grinder.
2. Mix thoroughly with sugar, currants. raisins, spices,
salt, brandy and sherry. Let sit. Stir daily for about
two weeks … then prepare tarts, pies, and more!

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