I truly never thought I was the sort of person who’d make their own mincemeat. I am very much of the opinion that there are certain things that are worth making at home if you can be bothered (shortcrust pastry, cookies, almost all cakes); and some where the standard supermarket options really are vastly superior to homemade (filo pastry, ketchup, baked beans). Until recently, mincemeat would absolutely have fallen into the ‘supermarket bought’ category, especially if it says ‘luxury’ on the label – I’m easily bought.
But then as Summer began to tip into Autumn I went on a preserving spree, jamming and jellying every fruit I could find, making fruit cheeses and ferments, sauces and cordials. An air of vinegar followed me around me for days, no matter how much I washed my hands. And as I flicked through the books which held these preservation recipes, I kept coming across recipes for mincemeat. I nearly skipped right over them, dismissing them. I’m glad I didn’t. Making mincemeat was one of the most deeply satisfying bits of cooking I’ve ever enjoyed.
Twenty minutes of chopping, slicing, zesting, juicing and grating is followed by an overnight steep in the fridge, and then three hours of baking, so that the suet melts and combines with all the other ingredients. There are few things lovelier than a dish of individual ingredients sitting in a low oven and slowly becoming a composite, their aroma filling the kitchen and trailing through the house, and that is exactly what happens here. As it cools, the ingredients are stirred until the suet coats the fruit and nuts, binding it together into mincemeat. A generous slosh of booze tops the whole thing off. It’s gentle but persistent work, checking in on the ingredients at various intervals, seeing the dish transform and come together, before storing it away in jars for future treats.
What I had forgotten when I almost rejected the idea of homemade mincemeat was that, of course, as with all things homemade, part of the joy is that you can adjust for your tastes: I like rum for the alcohol, warming and with hints of vanilla, but brandy and sherry work well too. If you find dark brown sugar too treacley and cloying, you can switch it for light brown sugar; if you loathe candied zest, use a blend of dried fruits which don’t include those (just make sure you make up a kilo weight overall – try dried apricots or cranberries!). Double up on the oranges, and skip the lemons, if you want a sweeter scented finished product; change the nuts, if you’re more of a pecan person than an almond lover. This recipe works equally well with vegetarian suet, if you’d rather use that.
Naturally, the mincemeat makes showstopping mince pies, but it’s also great in a whole raft of puddings: stuffed into hollowed-out baked apples, mincemeat crumbles and strudels, folded through cake or muffin batter before baking – and a jar makes a great festive gift for baking friends. Now is the time to make your own mincemeat, and then sit tight and keep your eyes peeled next month for our Vintage Chef mince pie recipe.
Makes: 6 454ml jars
Takes: 20 minutes, plus steeping and cooling
Bakes: 3 hours
You will need:
500g bramley apples
50g whole, skin-on almonds
1kg mixed dried fruit and peel
250g shredded suet (standard or vegetarian)
3 teaspoons mixed spice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
300g dark brown sugar
100ml rum, brandy or sherry
- First, the chopping, slicing and grating. Core the bramley apples, and dice them into small pieces (no need to peel). Slice the almonds into fine slivers. Zest the two lemons and two oranges, and juice them all.
- In a large oven-proof bowl or tray, mix together the dried fruit, chopped apples, almonds, the suet, all the spices, sugar, zest and citrus juice. Cover this with cling film or a clean teatowel, and leave to stand overnight in the fridge.
- Heat the oven to 120°C. Swap the cling film or tea towel for a sheet of tin foil, and put the covered tray or bowl in the oven for three hours. After three hours, let the mincemeat completely cool, stirring every so often as it cools. Once completely cold, stir through the brandy, rum or sherry.
- Sterilise your jam jars (I wash mine with hot soapy water then dry them out in an 160°C oven, but there are other methods, so please use what works best for you) and pack tightly into the jars. I like to add a tiny slosh of booze onto the surface of each packed jar, just to protect it a little more, but it’s not really necessary. Leaving this to mature for a month or so will really improve the flavour of your mincemeat, but the stuff will keep for a very long time – at least a year.