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charcutepalooza. my mincemeat experience.


I had such hope for this post. Sometime back in the summer, I learned of the availability of beef suet and an idea was hatched.

It became my own personal Charcutepalooza extra credit. The sweet side of meat preservation – just in time for the holidays. Real mincemeat. Sweet, savory, boozy. Intense. It’s how bits and pieces of beef have been preserved for hundreds of years.

And so it began.

I have a long history with mincemeat. It was my mother’s favorite pie, and joined apple as dessert at both Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. This mincemeat was decidedly vegetarian, out of a jar. My mother would top her piece of double crusted pie with a dab of well whipped fresh cream. The next morning, there would be another piece for breakfast.

What was this mysterious substance hiding in the Cross & Blackwell jar? Arriving a week or two ahead of Thanksgiving, sent from my Grandmother (who knew a special British foodshop in Harvard Square) my mother emptied the jar of mincemeat into a small glass bowl. It smelled so sweet and full of mysterious spices. Stirring once or twice, she would pour brandy over the mince until it was just covered. “To plump the raisins.” Covering the bowl with a folded towel, she’d tuck it onto the top shelf of the pantry, to mingle for a week or more.

Thanksgiving morning’s pie making is a memory so deep and strong. Early morning in the kitchen, with a turkey to make and stuffing to bake; silver polishing and table setting, and all the other projects of the day still to come; dusting the counter with flour and rolling out the chilled dough with measured strokes. The smell of brandy and raisins fill the kitchen as coffee brews. To this day, Thanksgiving pie making starts at 6am and by breakfast time, the pies are out and cooling on the sideboard.

Scrape. Boil. Mince. Grind. Steep.

I researched mincemeat all over the web and in several old and new cookbooks. The idea is decidedly Medieval, when strong spices and sugars and liquor would mask the taste of slightly “off” meat. No need to let your meat rot – in fact, there’s no need to include meat at all. But I was intrigued with the conjunction of sweet and savory and meaty, and needed to follow it all through. This recipe is a big jumble of everything I read. Some of my favorite bits of information came from NCFHP, David Lebovitz, Alton Brown.

Suet is some crazy stuff. I put it on the counter and circled it like prey. It scared me, I’ll admit it. It was ugly. Joe Pastry has a great post on shredding suet that guided my knife. It made me shudder.

Pam the Butcher offered her advice on the best cut of meat. Arm steak – from the chuck – is what she called it, and it included a nice marrow bone for Louie.

I made candied orange and lemon peel and gathered currants, raisins and dried cherries. I mixed the meat, fat and liquids with the fruits and started warming a pot of dark, scary looking stuff. From there, I just riffed until it smelled the way I wanted it to smell. Like Christmas.

Now What?

So I have six quarts of meaty mincemeat. I thought they would be perfect all pressure canned and ready to be gifted out to more adventurous eaters, one or two saved on my shelf for a year, to see if the boozy flavor gets stronger.  In the interest of science and all that.

The first batch of jars in the canner – six quarts and two pints – siphoned. I immediately scooped out the hot mincemeat into a new batch of sterilized jars and reprocessed. Siphoned again. Only two pints sealed, and I’m not entirely confident.

Now there are five quarts of mincemeat in my already crowded refrigerator. They need to steep for a fortnight. (You say things like fortnight when making food with suet.)

After two weeks, I opened a jar and, with four pie crusts ready to be transformed, began searching for the perfect mince pie. It seems mince pies are a holiday tradition in the UK, and most often served as small tarts or hand pies – small because they are so rich.

Testing. Testing.

One quart jar of mincemeat moistened with some brandy and steeped a few days, then went through several iterations.

Fill miniature muffin tins with 3” pastry circles, 2 Tbls. of mincemeat, and top with a pastry star
Filling bubbles up and over, thus gluing the tartlets permanently (seemingly) to the muffin tin. Of those that released, the filling is totally dry.

Cut out 6” circles, tuck into buttered, floured ramekins, top with a circle of dough and a rope edging, pinching edges together. Vent.
Filling not as dry, but once extracted/popped out of the ramekins, they are not that appealing.

Double crusted pie, well vented.
Moist filling, but…

the truth is, it’s not the mincemeat of my childhood. The meat gets in the way.

I’ll make mincemeat again, but I’ll omit the meat, and the suet.

Have a very happy Thanksgiving and good luck with your Charcutepalooza projects. We can’t wait to read your posts.

Here are the deadlines

Curing Post 12/1
Final Challenge Post 12/6
Grand Prize Entries 12/6 (details)
Six Semi Finalists Selected 12/15
Two Finalists Selected 12/22
Grand Prize Awarded 1/4

33 thoughts on “charcutepalooza. my mincemeat experience.”

  1. I’ve never considered adding real meat to it – in spite of the old recipes that call for beef to be added. Proof that some food traditions do benefit from change..?

  2. Hmmm. We always make mincemeat using meat. Have done it with beef and mutton in the past and this year did it with venison. One version with rum and brandy, one with bourbon (which although an American drink, was a recipe originally prepared for Queen Victoria) Both are absolutely delicious. (I confess I am British though)
    I would suspect the mistake you made was in cooking the meat beforehand and pressure canning it afterwards. Traditionally the meat is raw, and this is the method I have always used. The mixture is then ‘fed’ more alcohol over a period of several weeks and this and the high sugar content is what preserves it. No-one who has tasted it without knowing of the meat content has been able to detect it directly. All have enjoyed it. My version is here:
    http://www.killandcure.net/blog/?p=201

    1. Your recipe is one that I found while searching and studying. It’s typically and beautifully British. OK, I’d give yours a try, if you handed me some, but I am saying, defiinitively, that I will not make mincemeat again. Suet did me in. And besides, I’m perfectly happy with Cross & Blackwell. Are you muttering “Philistine” under your breath?

  3. I am impressed that you did this. We have a couple of people in our family that HAVE to have their mincemeat pie around the Christmas holiday – I haven’t developed the fortitude to move past the jarred filling.
    Sorry it wasn’t what you hoped for.

  4. I too recall the loaded buffet with the variety of pies made mostly by my Grandmother where we always went to celebrate the holidays. Home home, my Dad’s brood of siblings and all of their kids made for a raucous and fun day. But I would not touch that pie.

    Fast forward and I’m thinking I might. I mean, I love Brussels sprouts and asparagus and corned beef and they also used to be on the ‘do not touch’ list; you make it sound so wonderful; meat or not meat.

  5. The suet is a key ingredient, whether you use meat or not. In the UK we can buy dried shredded suet, and even “vegetarian suet”. This is a vital ingredient in Christmas pudding as well, and a whole host of desserts such as Jam Roly-Poly and Spotted Dick.

  6. Cudoos to you for taking on this challenge. Years ago, when I had a huge “cooking pear” tree in the backyard, I found a recipe for pear mincemeat. It was an all fruit version. It did not require pressure canning, but the boiling water bath used for jams and jellies. I kept it in my pantry for several years. In addition to pies, I used it to make an upside down spice cake and served it as a “relish” with roast pork. Enjoy your Thanksgiving off.

  7. It’s hard to compete with childhood memories. If you have a childhood favorite and you try another version it rarely matches up. Memories are strong things. I had so much fun this year. It’s hard to believe it’s wrapping up now. Lovely post.

  8. How similar and different our experiences. For me mincemeat was always a gift from my mom’s friend Pat and it was one we all looked forward to. She lovingly made it from the neck meat of venison harvested in the wild by her husband Fred. Sadly, her recipe passed away with her nearly 25 years ago. The last of it was vacuum sealed and stored in the freezer where it kept very well for many years (booze content?). Mom always made into cookie sized half moon tarts (they also kept very well vacuum sealed in the freezer). You’ve inspired me to try to make it (provided my brother in law gets the elk he’s currently hunting for).

  9. This brings back a lot of memories – Mincemeat was one of my Father’s favorite pie’s too. And I loved the smell as a kid. I applaud you for doing the real thing. And you’ve inspired me to make the meatless version for the holidays – after Charcutepalooza!

  10. My grandmother used to make mincemeat and it was so good. The day I realized it actually had MEAT in it was a true epiphany. I used to be able to find the little boxes of Nonesuch that we added water to in order to reconstitute it. It also had meat in it and was lovely. While I love mince pie, the meatless kind just doesn’t have the punch 🙂 I made some last year, but grandma’s recipe is long gone.

  11. Cathy,
    I have to say I’m relieved that this wasn’t that great. My hubby loves mincemeat (I’m not a huge fan) and I was afraid you were going to rave about your meat filled mincemeat so much that I would be guilted into making your version for him. So, while I’m sad that it didn’t turn out to be what you wanted, I’m also so relieved! (Oh, and in awe, amazed you tried this in the first place!!)

  12. What an awesome experiment. I have a recollection that my mom did this when I was a kid, and we ended up going back to a meat-less version ourselves.

    Kudos for your sense of adventure and your honesty! This is what great blogs are made of.

  13. And THIS is why we love you, Cathy. Such fierce dedication to your craft. Others might call that kind of curiosity obsessive, but I say it’s perfectly normal!
    One funny memory of Cross and Blackwells. My mom, also a curious/obsessive cook, tried repeatedly to make a Chow-Chow as good as theirs. Afte much experimentation, her final recipe started with “take one jar of Cross and Blackwell’s Chow-Chow” and then went on to add the rest of the indredients. There was something mysterious in that jar!
    Happiest of Thanksgivings to you and Dennis, and the pets, of course.

  14. Glad to know I’m not alone. I went through this exact same exercise in disappointment last year : ) Not that the stuff was bad, just not worth the expense or the work.

    I spent a prized Devon roast, spent countless hours on a research and a variety of recipes and today, a year later, still have two pints in my spare fridge.

    I plan to try two last projects – stuffing a pork roast and stuffing ravioli and serving with a light cream sauce.

    I did make a tart that was pretty delish – a SMALL amount of mincemeat, mixed with cocoa powder and sliced, canned pears and a semolina crumble. The crust was a short crust made with butter and orange juice.

    Thanks for your willingness to try the hard stuff first, I really enjoy and learn from your blog! Happy Thanksgiving!

  15. Fascinating. When I buy suet from Dickson’s it is the same consistency as lard and not at all “shreddy.” I love mincemeat but will take your cue and stick to the vegetarian version. Happy Thanksgiving, Cathy!

  16. What memories. Where I grew up in Maine, mincemeat was always made with venison. As a young child, I thought that was the only meat used in mincemeat.
    There would be jars of it in the pantry, on those years that dad got a deer, which was more often than not. The night my mom would make mincemeat was one of the few school nights we were allowed to stay up late, until it was finished, so we could have a small sample. Some of the high-end stores in New England carry pre-made venison mince meat, but I haven’t been ambitious enough to make my own, since no one else I know cares for it.
    Thanks for posting, and helping me to relive those memories.

    -jb-

  17. I’m late to the comments, but could not resist.
    When we (an Air Force family) moved to Alaska in 1956, we encountered a dearth of fresh food and high prices. Like many, this was partially solved by hunting and fishing after the first year. Dad go his first moose and we discovered that they are ever so much larger than the deer we had hunted in S. Dak. No matter what you did, there was still a LOT of moose to use.

    Our second Christmas, my mother hit on moose mince meat as yet another way to absorb the creature in our freezer. All of us came to love it, but sadly the recipe seems to have disappeared in the ensuing half century. I’ve been tempted to try to recover or re-invent it, but never have. Your post encourages me to try. For that, my thanks.

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