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April 2017

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MINCEMEAT

Femme de Joie has not done any scientific polling, but she suspects the most-hated pie in America is mincemeat. Perhaps it's partly the name - there's something sinister going on with that - perhaps its unyielding dense stickiness, perhaps the intensity of dried fruit & spice. Maman de Joie was a big mincemeat pie fan - the only mincemeat fan Femme de Joie can think of, actually - and every Thanksgiving and Christmas Maman made one, which she usually wound up eating by herself. Mlle. de Joie refused to touch it.

The history books claim one thing or another about how, when, and where mincemeat came into existence. It was served to Henry VIII; it was developed by Puritans in New England; it was made by Druids. This is one of those pointless "how many angels can dance the Watusi on the head of a pin" questions, though it could make for a lively discussion among foodies if fueled by the appropriate libations.

What is certain is that mincemeat used to include meat. Changing habits and tastes, as well as the advent of modern refrigeration, have made mincemeat meatless. Now it's usually composed of some combination of fruit and spices with sugar and oil, and put up in jars for sale in the supermarket. You open the jar, scrape the contents into a pie shell, cover with a top crust, and bake. Mincemeat pie. Although Mlle. de Joie has gotten over her youthful horror, she finds commercial mincemeat too gummy, too sweet (especially when topped with the requisite hard sauce or whiskey sauce), and too one-note. It can be improved by shredding an apple or two into it, but still, it's really best when used in mincemeat cookies.

However, if you're adventurous, you might find it fun and delicious to make old-fashioned mincemeat. It is not difficult, is open to infinite variation, keeps forever, and will make a far better mincemeat pie than anything from the grocery store. It will also be far less sticky-sweet than commercial brands, with real texture and taste. Make it now and freeze it in anticipation of the holidays.

Femme de Joie developed this recipe from several sources, including John Clancy's Christmas Cookbook, Mimi Sheraton's Visions of Sugarplums, and a recited-from-memory recipe from an old friend who happens to be a stupendous cook. Think of this as a jumping-off place for your own additions and subtractions. Suggested variations are in brackets - for instance, if you don't like citron (and many people don't), leave it out and add something else.

Caveats: if you use dried fruit, either be certain it is unsulphured, or rinse it thoroughly with boiling water to remove sulphur, which can make the finished mincemeat taste unbelievably nasty. Suet can be had at R&R Meats, or ask at the Winco or Safeway meat department: they may be able to get it for you. And do not use an unlined aluminum pot: this mixture can pit the metal.

This can also be used in mincemeat cake and cookies, though for those you might want to finely chop it in a food processor to eliminate any stringy bits of brisket. Another more daring and delicious dessert can be made by heating the mincemeat and flaming it, then spoon over ice cream.

MINCEMEAT

2 pounds lean brisket of beef [venison or other tough-but-flavorful cut of meat, such as might be used for pot roast]
5 or 6 apples, cored and chopped [pears]
1/2 pound suet
2 cups raisins [substitute other dried or candied fruit]
1 cup currants [substitute other dried or candied fruit]
1 7.5 ounce package candied lemon peel [substitute other dried or candied fruit]
1 7.5 ounce package candied orange peel [substitute other dried or candied fruit]
1 7.5 ounce package candied citron [substitute other dried or candied fruit]
1 7.5 ounce package candied cherries [substitute other dried or candied fruit]
1- 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 cup dark Karo syrup [honey]
2 cups apple cider [pear juice]
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon allspice
Brandy and/or rum [or bourbon, scotch, or mixture]

Place the brisket in a pot with 2 teaspoons of salt and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook slowly until it can be shredded with forks. Shred the meat and leave in the cooking broth.

Finely chop the suet and add to the meat. (Put a little cooking oil on the knife to keep it from sticking). Add all other ingredients. At this point you can put the pot in the refrigerator, covered, overnight or up to two days.

Return pot to low-medium heat and add enough liquor to almost cover the mincemeat. Simmer, adding more liquor as needed, all day. Now and then taste and add more spices or fruit as you like. Mincemeat will absorb pretty much all the liquor you care to add to it.

When it tastes good to you, let cool twenty minutes, then pack into sturdy freezer containers and store in freezer. This will keep at least a year.

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