Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Mention mincemeat pie in a crowd, and you’ll get the full spectrum of reactions. From sweet memories of an English-born grandmother faithfully following a family recipe to “Meat? In a pie? Gross!” — you’re likely to hear it all.
The history of mincemeat pie is traceable to medieval times. Crusaders returning from the Holy Land brought Middle-Eastern spices and recipes back with them, and thus, a new British tradition was born.
Also called a “Christmas pie,” mincemeat pie is typically made by combining shredded meat or suet, which is a specific type of hard fat cut from around an animal’s kidneys and loins, with dried fruits, spices and alcohol. The mixture is then allowed to age from a few days to up to a year, if canned properly. Spooned into what we Americans would call mini pie crusts, mincemeat pies are a British holiday staple.
While mincemeat pies historically would always include some form of meat, modern pies often dispense with meat entirely in favor of extra dried fruits. In making my own mincemeat pies, I decided to be a little traditional and use suet, which acts more like butter in this instance. It made the pies richer, but without a distinctive meat or beef flavor.
In fact, my mincemeat ended up tasting like a boozy jam, perhaps attributable to the quarter cup of bourbon I added. Brandy is customary, but I didn’t want to buy a special bottle, so I decided to use what I had on hand.
After studying several recipes, I think “use what you have on hand” is a good lesson for mincemeat, in general. While you’ll want to keep the proportions of solids to liquids about the same as those in the recipe below, feel free to toss in just about any dried or candied fruit you have lingering in the back of your pantry. Chances are, it will probably be a delicious addition.
Mincemeat Mini Pies
(makes enough for a half-dozen pies, with mincemeat left over to enjoy on toast)
4 ounces golden raisins
3 ounces dried figs
1 1/2 ounces dried cherries
1 1/2 ounces dried cranberries
1/4 ounce candied ginger
1 Granny Smith apple, cored and chunked
Zest and juice of half an orange
Zest and juice of half a lemon
1 ounce suet, chopped into small pieces
1/4 cup bourbon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground clove
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cardamon
2 homemade or store bought pie crusts
While you can chop the dried fruit by hand, making mincemeat pie goes much faster with a food processor.
Start by mixing all of the ingredients except the crust and egg together in a large bowl. Add about half the fruit mixture to your food processor and pulse 10 times. If you want chunkier mincemeat, stop there. If you’d like something more smooth and spreadable, keep the food processor running for 30 seconds or so. Repeat with the other half of the mixture.
It’s not critical, but, if possible, allow the mincemeat to age in your refrigerator for a few days before moving on to the next step.
Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease six spots in a normal size muffin tin. Then, roll out your cold pie dough to about 1/4-inch thickness. Using a jar lid or a glass cut out six circles. Press them into the muffin tin, repairing any holes with dough scraps.
Spoon about 1 1/2 ounces of mincemeat filling into each mini crust. Using holiday cookie cutters, cut out six shapes and place one on the top of each pie. Whisk the egg with a little cold water and brush the top of each pie with the egg wash.
Bake 15-20 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. Allow to cool slightly before attempting to remove the pies from the muffin tin.
— Meryl Carver-Allmond lives in Lawrence and writes about chickens, babies, knitting, gardening, food, photography, and whatever else tickles her fancy on any given day at www.mybitofearth.net.