My memories of my Nana in the kitchen often revolve around the foods she cooked that my parents, Pappy, and I favored, like chow chow and her homemade bread, but the annual mincemeat pie, well, that was Nana’s love alone; no one else in the family was fond of it.
Every Thanksgiving during my early childhood years, Nana whipped up a mincemeat pie that she alone savored to the last slice. The aroma of spices filled our little Coal Region kitchen as she lovingly tended the mincemeat mixture simmering on the stovetop.
Nana’s mincemeat was the real thing — it included meat and suet. It was nowhere near today’s meat-free, jarred commercial versions. There were apples, and raisins, and a fragrant mix of warm spices in her mincemeat, but no candied citrus as in many of today’s recipes.
Nana’s mincemeat pies always included a lattice top crust that she laced tightly and crimped to the bottom, filled crust. The pie can also be topped with a simple second layer of crust.
Because the homemade mincemeat needs time for the flavors to fully develop, plan on making the actual mincemeat several weeks in advance of when you plan to use it.
My mincemeat recipe does not call for candied citrus, or figs, or many other ingredients that would not have been available to the typical home cook generations ago.
When making pies or tarts, feel free to use your favorite pastry crust recipe or store-bought.
Mincemeat (or mince) pies have been around for centuries although not in the form we are familiar with today. In the past “mincemeat” did, in fact, always contain meat (or fish). Dried fruit and spices were also used, but as accent flavors.
Mincemeat pies are an English tradition since the 16th century and have some biblical references. They were once made in cradle-shaped tins in memory of the Christ Child’s manger and the spices added to the mincemeat were a commemoration of the gifts given by the Three Wise Men.
Originally intended as a way to use remnants of the butchering process, mincemeat was brought to America by immigrants from England.
Early Colonial housewives adopted the practice of making mince and incorporated whatever native ingredients they had available, including wild game such as venison and rabbit or even eels and oysters.
Cooks took great pride in their mincemeat with each laying claim to their own secret recipes. Mincemeat was often made up to a year before its intended use in order for the flavors to develop and mellow.
“Putting up” mincemeat
For longer term storage than the refrigerator, homemade mincemeat may be pressure canned in mason jars and stored for one year in a cool, dry place. If you don’t have a pressure canner, you can freeze this in plastic containers or straight-sided jars with no shoulders. Water-bath canning is not acceptable for safety reasons. Processing pressure: 10 lbs weighted gauge, 11 lbs dial gauge (adjust pressure for your altitude when over 1000 feet.) Processing time: 90 minutes for pint jars . SEE “Pressure Canning Step-by-Step” for detailed information.
Homemade Old-fashioned MincemeatCourse: DessertsCuisine: English, PA Dutch, Coal RegionDifficulty: Intermediate
4 pounds lean, bone-in beef or venison
2 1/2 cups beef suet, finely chopped or grated
7 1/2 cups cored and chopped tart apples
3 cups reserved liquid the meat of your choice it was cooked in
5 cups granulated sugar
3 cups apple cider
1 cup unsulphured molasses (not blackstrap)
1/2 cup cider vinegar
3 cups dark raisins
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground cloves
2 tablespoons ground allspice
2 tablespoons ground nutmeg
Juice of 2 lemons
Juice of 2 oranges
1 cup brandy or sherry
- Trim the fat from meat and discard.
- In a large frying pan over medium heat, place meat; cover with water and simmer until the meat is tender. Remove from heat and refrigerate meat in the cooking liquid overnight.
- Remove from refrigerator and remove meat from liquid. Skim all fat from top of liquid; discard the fat and reserve the remaining liquid. Separate meat from bones, discard bones. Dice cooked meat into small cubes or roughly chop by pulsing in a food processor .
- In a large pot, combine diced meat, beef suet, chopped apples, reserved meat cooking liquid, granulated sugar, apple cider, molasses, cider vinegar, raisins, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, lemon juice, and orange juice. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for approximately 2 hours, stirring frequently. Remove pot from heat. Add brandy or sherry and stir together well.
- Place the mincemeat in lidded mason jars and let rest in the refrigerator at least 2 to 3 weeks before using.
- Makes enough for 4 – 9 inch double-crusted pies
- Suet is a solid while animal fat. You can get suet from your local butcher or the meat department of many grocery stores. It must be kept refrigerated prior to use and used within a few days of purchase.
- May be frozen in air-tight containers for longer storage. May also be pressure canned. (Processing pressure: 10 lbs weighted gauge, 11 lbs dial gauge (adjust pressure for your altitude when over 1000 feet.) Processing time: 90 minutes for pint jars) DO NOT WATER BATH PROCESS!
- Recipe adapted from: What’s Cooking America