Christmas is one of those times of the year when thoughts turn to family and tradition. Expatriates are not always able to return home to their families but it is possible to bring many traditions with you when you travel. Food is possibly one of the most evocative traditions we can export, the smell, the taste immediately bring us back to a particular time and place.
Before I lived in England I had never heard of or tasted mincemeat. This Christmas sweetmeat is a heady concoction of dried fruits, sugar and spices steeped in alcohol and fat. It is traditionally used as a filling in small bite sized pies and the taste is pure ‘Christmas’ for me, so much so that I can eat it straight from the jar.
Most English recipe books will have their own version of the mixture but there is no need to be exact about the ingredients. I usually mix equal amounts of raisins, currants, sultanas, candied peel, chopped fresh apple and suet (shredded beef fat) with a part and a half of soft brown sugar. I then add some lemon and orange zest and squeeze the juice from the fruit into the mix. I then stir in a generous helping of ground nutmeg, cinnamon, mace and cloves. If I am not expecting children to eat the mix I might add some chopped walnuts or almonds.
|The dry ingredients for mincemeat are best left overnight.
The mix is best left overnight to infuse. Instead of cooking up on the stove I use Delia Smith’s trick of putting the mix in a low oven for a few hours, towards the end I put some jars in the oven to sterilise. The result looks revolting, the suet melts and the whole mix swims in fat. While the mincemeat cools I add some brandy, cognac or other suitable alcohol (mead gives a lovely taste if you can get it) before decanting into the jars.
|The cooked mix looks revolting, the suet melts and coats all the other ingredients.
It can be kept for many months and the flavours improve the longer it is left but it is possible to use it almost immediately.
I like to make a range of mince pies – the traditional shortcrust ones work very well but there are -endless variations - little half moons of filled puff pastry are very appetising as are filo pastry parcels. Last year I made mini mincemeat Danish pastries which were very popular.
|Mincemeat Danish Pastries - yummy.
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