There are two things that signal the onset of the holiday season: making mincemeat, and that Coke ad with the illuminated lorries. Did you know, and I’m pretty sure I’m not making this up, that Father Christmas’ suit was traditionally green, and that it was Coca Cola that changed it to red to better fit in with their own branding? That’s got to be the marketing success of the century.
Anyway, enough free advertising for Coke – I don’t even drink the stuff – and down to the mincemeat. It’s not too early, or too late to be making it. This recipe, which is also in Grow Your Own Cake along with the baking of the actual mince pies, is almost entirely fat free. Or at least it is until you wrap it in buttery pastry, but hey, it’s Christmas! There are still British plums to be had – I only just finished picking my ‘Marjorie’s Seedling’ the other day, and I saw those and ‘President’ on the market this week – and apples and pears are obviously in their prime season right now. This year I’ve left out the nuts (elderly relatives, dentures etc), and thrown in a few dried cranberries I had kicking about the cupboard: the beauty of this recipe is that as long as you keep the proportions of puree, fresh and dried fruit/nuts the same, you can twiddle about with the precise ingredients*. For the marmalade I used my windfall marmalade for an extra bit of home-made smugness, but you’ll have to wait for the next book for that recipe!
250g damsons (just use another 25og of plums – it’s a bit late for damsons, but if you can find them they add an extra fruity depth)
2 large oranges
500g dessert apples (or a mix of apples and pears)
250g Demerara sugar
½tsp ground cloves
2 tsp ground ginger
½ whole nutmeg, finely grated
100g chopped almonds (optional)
50ml amaretto (almond liqueur)
Zest and juice the oranges; set aside the zest.
Put the orange juice into a large pan with the damsons. Halve the plums, removing the stones, and add them to the pan. This way you get rid of most of the stones, making it easier to push through the sieve once cooked, but don’t have to bother pitting the damsons, which is a bit faffy. Cook gently until the fruit is tender (about 15 minutes), while you peel, core and dice the apples into 1cm cubes.
Put the apples, sultanas, marmalade, sugar, spices, almonds and the orange zest into a large baking dish and stir well.
Push the contents of the damson/plum mix through a sieve to a puree. Do this in batches and discard the skins and stones left in the sieve.
Preheat the oven to 130°C and remove the foil from the dish. Bake the mincemeat for 2½ hours then remove from the oven. Mix in the amaretto, then spoon into warm, sterilised jars, prodding regularly as you do so to remove any air bubbles.
Enough to make around 4 dozen mince pies, which should keep you going through the holidays, but if you’ve any left, add it to apple crumbles or pies, or the aforementioned porridge. You can also bake it in a large open tart, rather than individual pies, using a sweet shortcrust pastry, and serve warm with icecream or cream. It will keep for up to a year, but I find it’s best used up by New Year, so that you don’t get mincemeat-fatigue before the following autumn when it’s time to make the new batch.
*The original proportions of this recipe were taken from Pam Corbin’s River Cottage Preserves handbook.