Among the traditional Holiday foods once beloved, but now maligned, mincemeat sadly ranks up there behind fruitcake. Dating back to the 11th century, mincemeat pie was a holiday food packed (along with the meat, fruit, sugar and spice) with a lot of religious symbolism, . The trio of spices for example–cinnamon, clove and nutmeg, represented the gifts of the Magi. The crust (or casing) was shaped like a cradle (i.e. manger), and topped with an itty-bitty baby Jesus : )
As decades rolled by the practice of preserving meats with sugar and spice prevailed, but the pies eventually shrank in size. And, as writer Lauren Fink reminds us, for a miserable 22 years in mid-17th century Massachusetts, the Puritan ban on all things Christmas just about eradicated the pie in the colonies.
Today, mincemeat pies rarely include any meat—although anyone who has had a Latin American picadillo hand pie or a Morroccan bisteeya (chicken and egg pie with cinnamon-sugared almonds) can tell you that sweet-spiced meat pies are in fact very tasty. And if you have had only the store-bought version of mincemeat, you have definitely been shortchanged: homemade is most-definitely better.
I was chatting about the shortage of good-mincemeat experiences with my dear friend and collaborator Tory O’Haire. (Tory did the wine pairings for the book I wrote for Rizzoli NY, on Italian rice, Risotto & Beyond, featuring recipes from chef John Coletta.) Tory and I decided to put things to rights and share with you a most lovely traditional recipe for mincemeat tarts. One quart of the filling is the perfect amount to make one, large 9-inch round tart and two, little 41/2-inch ones. For the mincemeat, in addition to a long list of dried fruit, fresh fruit, spices and a bit of rum, you’ll need to purchase 200 grams of high-quality beef suet (the prize fat around cow kidneys) and a pound of steak.
Prepare the mincemeat this week if you’d like to eat it during the 12 days of Christmas (which end on January 5, 12th night.) Or, save it, and bake the tart later to help sweeten the winter doldrums. Happy Holidays!
- 1 pound chopped beef steak, boiled for 2 hours until finely shreddable
- 1 cup high-quality dark Thompson seedless raisins
- 1 cup golden Sultana raisins
- 2 cups Granny Smith apple, peeled, seeded and finely chopped
- 2 cups fresh pear, peeled, seeded and finely chopped
- 1 cup dried apricots, roughly chopped
- 1 cup dried plums (prunes)
- 1/2 cup candied ginger, roughly chopped
- 200 grams shredded beef suet
- 2 cups dark brown sugar, packed
- 2 Tbsp candied lemon peel
- 2 Tbsp candied orange peel
- Zest and juice from 1 fresh lemon
- 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp ground cloves
- 1/2 tsp ground allspice
- 1/2 tsp ground mace
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp ground coriander
- 1/2 cup good quality dark rum
- 1 cup apple cider
- For Tart Crusts: (Makes 1 nine-inch crust; plus two, 4 1/2-inch crusts
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup pure cane sugar
- 2 sticks of unsalted butter
- Yolks of two large eggs
- 3 to 4 Tablespoons of chilled milk or cream
- Make Mincemeat: Combine the entire list of ingredients in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over low heat. Simmer gently for 2 hours. Place in jars and either follow canning instructions to make shelf-stable, or, place in the refrigerator and use within one-and-1/2 weeks.
- When ready to prepare tarts, butter one 9-inch tart pan and two 41/2-inch tart pans. Refrigerate.
- In a large bowl, place 2 1/2 cups flour with 1/2 cup sugar. Using two knives, cut in the two sticks of butter. Using your fingertips, lightly break up remaining butter chunks into the flour until you have a mixture resembling coarse sand, with a few pea-sized bits of butter. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Stir the yolks into the flour/butter/sugar mixture. Add 3 to 4 Tbsp chilled milk and stir until the mixture gathers together. Spread work surface with two overlapping pieces of plastic wrap. Pour piecrust mixture onto plastic. Pull the four corners of the plastic wrap up and using your hands, knead the dough through the plastic for a minute until you have a ball of dough. Flatten the dough into a disk. Cut into four pieces: one large piece for the 9-inch tart; three smaller pieces to make the small tarts, and to make piecrust stars to place on top of each tart. Wrap each dough ball in plastic wrap; flatten into disks. Place all in refrigerator for 1 hour.
- Preheat oven to 400. Roll out the 9-inch tart crust. Ease into buttered tart pan. Repeat with the two 4 1/2-inch tart crusts and pans. Fill each tart with mincemeat filling. Roll out the remaining piece of pie crust; cut into star shapes with a cookie cutter. Place one star on each of the small tarts. Place all of the remaining stars on the large tart. Place all tarts in the oven on the middle rack and bake at 400 for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 375 and bake for an addition 20 to 25 minutes until crusts are well browned and filling is bubbly. Remove from oven. Cool slightly. Eat warm or room temperature. A dollop of whipped cream is nice on top.
- Note: For best flavor, allow the mincemeat to rest for several days before baking into the tarts.