As I get older, the things that make Christmas meaningful for me are constantly changing. As a child, it was that one day of the year when my whole family would come together. All the cousins sleeping over from Christmas Eve, and waking up excited together, ready to start the long-awaited day. But we’re growing up now, and as we start families of our own and spatially grow apart, Christmas is becoming a more sombre affair. Gone are the days when there was too much food and too many people that it was physically impossible for us to fit around the dining room table. Over the past few years, being away from home and my family over the holiday season, means I’ve had to search for those things that heralded the arrival of Christmas for me. Growing up in London, you knew that Christmas was coming, not when the Christmas lights went up, but when you ate your first mince pie of the season. Cold or warm, alone or accompanied by brandy butter or cream. Its taste and smell exudes opulence. Think: rich dried fruit, with warming brandy and the aromatic spices of mulled wine left to mature and then baked in a buttery pastry. The humble mince pie, for me, is Christmas covered in pastry. And so, for the past four years, I have made my own mincemeat with an Australian friend in the heart of Italy’s Piedmont region. Each year, we adapted the recipe based on what we could find in Bra, the little Italian town where we lived. There’s no such thing as too much mincemeat, and so year on year the quantity grew as did the ingredient list and we became less scared of ruining it and more interested in adding extra layers to an already voluptuous body. It became a three day labour of love, analysing the past year (our triumphs, failures and highlights) and sharing our hopes for the next one while candying peel, chopping fruits and nuts and grating frozen butter whilst our Christmas playlist played in the background. We created our own Christmas tradition. Maybe this is part of growing up, when you start to recognize what is important and make traditions of your own. Not out of the blue, but reinventing and redefining the familiar. So, here’s to growing up, to Christmases past, present and future, and of course to mincemeat.
Zachi & Justin’s Mincemeat
Christmas may be over, but if you start making your mincemeat now, it will be perfect in a year’s time. Here’s how we do it:
As you notice, there are no weights of measures, feel free to put in as much or as little of everything as you like. Just as every year that passes is different from the previous and will be from the following, so is our mincemeat.
Oranges & Lemons & Bergamot
Raisins & Currants & Sultanas
Dried Cranberries Chestnuts
Apples (cooking and dessert)
Cinnamon sticks & powder
Suet or Frozen Butter
Brandy & Rum & Sherry
Day 1 – Candying Peel & Making Citrus sugar syrup
Take your citrus fruits and score it into four quarters, so that you can easily remove the peel. From each quarter remove as much of the pith as possible, as you don’t want too much bitterness. Then slice each quarter into roughly 1 cm wide strips, keeping all of the various fruits separate. Boil the peel to remove bitterness, change the water and boil them again. Add 2 parts caster sugar to one part water and add your boiled peel to a pot (still keeping the different fruit peel separate), and boil until the peel is soft and transparent. Remove the peel from the sugar syrup and leave them to cool for a few minutes until you can handle them without burning yourself. Keep the now flavoured sugar syrup in a jar. While they are still wet, toss them in caster sugar and leave them overnight to cool completely and dry.
Day 2 – Preparing the mincemeat
N.B. Remember to keep tasting it throughout to get the flavour balance you desire
Chop all of the dried fruit fruits into pieces roughly 2cm in size, remembering to remove the pips from the dates, and chopping the little piece of stalk off of the figs. Chop all of the nuts and add to the dried fruit. Peel and core the apples and chop the cooking apples into cubes of about 3cm and the dessert apples slightly bigger. (The apples are here not just for flavour but to add structure to mincemeat, so that it is not completely mushy). Add to the dried fruit and nuts. Grate the nutmeg and ginger and add them to the other ingredients in the mixing bowl. Open the vanilla pod, and add it whole along with the cinnamon stick, cloves, cardamom and star anise. Add ground allspice, pepper and cinnamon powder to the bowl as well. Add the muscovado sugar Chop the candied peel that you made the previous day and throw that into the bowl along with a good drizzle of the sugar syrups that you made the day before. Mix it, mix it and mix it again. Cover and leave for at least 24 hours at room temperature to allow the flavours to develop and mingle, mixing every so often.
Day 3 and 4 – Baking your mincemeat
Preheat your oven to 120c Grate the frozen butter if you are using this instead of suet, and add either one to the mince meat mixture. Mix it in well. Transfer the mixture to an ovenproof pot and cover with foil or with a lid and bake for 2.5 - 3 hours. Leave to cool completely and add your sherry, brandy and/ or rum. Store in sterilised jars until use. Your mincemeat will last up to a year, maybe even two depending on the amount of sugar and alcohol in it, but you can use it as soon as two weeks after making.
If you use butter, then it will look cloudy in the jar, because of the fat from the butter, not mould.