It never occurred to me that people go full bore at Christmas – making everything.
Their own wreaths – our Jain.
Their own xmas cards – our Karen.
Their own dinner of bloody caesars and popcorn – our Carol. (Kind of like a bloody mary...Actually to be fair, she doesn't limit them to Christmas - and if you go full bore for Christmas, my point is you'll need these by January).
My Mum makes her own martinis.
But, more to the point, she also makes her own mincemeat – for mincemeat tarts at Christmas. It’s one of those foods I've always thought just grows in jars somewhere. At the Cross & Blackwell jar place. It just appears every November on store shelves, in a sort of exotic, archaic aisle of strange Christmas foods. One of those foods you don't think you want to know too much about.
I have always loved mincemeat tarts. Always.
Mincemeat tarts…Christmas ritual. Essential.
No tarts? Hold the snow…park the sleigh there fat boy…let the reindeer idle man.
So a few weeks ago, when I found a fresh slew of plastic containers at a local grocery chain with big, huge, almost pie-size mincemeat tarts…I bought a six pack.
I washed them down with a big pot of tea. Did I say them? As in plural? Okay...yes...I had two. I fed my bereft palate, which after a year’s tart fasting, meant I thought they tasted pretty okay. Besides I probably didn’t let them hit the sides of my throat as they went down to my hips.
There were six on Friday afternoon. There were two by Sunday afternoon, when my friends and my Mum came over. So I carefully cut up the remaining tarts while the tea did its brewing.
Carol feigned disgust. She rightly complained that these weren’t Mum's tarts so she wasn’t going there. Mum glowed. Jain waxed on about Mum’s tarts…and Mum glowed.
The poor helpless chopped up bits of tart on the plate looked pretty much like remainders from an industrial tart plant…which of course is what they were.
So Mum, pleased as punch to be needed…set to work. Within the week, the kitchen was a haze of whizzing blenders, flying knives, empty brandy bottles (for the cooking you understand), mixers standing up to the glutinous, heavy demands. Out came the essential but highly specialized Christmas pudding…a fruitcake that will be devoured not denied…pastry all ready...and the mincemeat.
Mum doesn’t have a special recipe…but she’s modified one from Delia Smith’s Christmas.
I thought I’d throw out there the possibility for anyone who might secretly long for a mincemeat tart but feels the stigma of the fruitcake thing creeping up on them, of making mincemeat for themselves…standing up for your rights in tartdom…reclaiming mincemeat…and finding out once and for all that there isn’t meat in it…sort of…
Homemade Christmas Mincemeat
Makes 6 lbs (2.75 kg)
1 lb (450 g) Bramley (unpeeled) apples, cored and chopped small – of course in North America find a sour apple you like – granny smith?
8 oz (225g) shredded suet (it’s fat – ask the butcher at your supermarket – you can also get a vegetarian version – it's crucial, so don’t skip it)
12 oz (350g) raisins
8 oz (225g) sultanas
8 oz (225g) currants
8 oz (225g) whole jixed candied peel, finely chopped (I hate peel, so Mum adds more of the previous fruit
12 oz (350g) soft dark brown sugar
grated zest and juice of 2 oranges and 2 lemons
2 oz (50g) slivered almonds
4 tsp mixed ground spice
½ tsp ground cinnamon
6 tbsp brandy
Combine all ingredients, except the brandy, in a large mixing bowl, stirring it together thoroughly. Cover the bowl with a clean cloth and leave mixture in a cool place overnight or for 12 hours. Pre-heat the oven to 225 degrees F (120 degrees C), cover the bowl loosely with foil and put it in the oven for three hours.
Remove the bowl from the oven and Delia then says, "don't worry about the appearance of the mincemeat, which will look positively swiming in fat. This is how it should look." As it cool stir it occasionally; the fat will coagulate and instead of it being in tiny shreds it will encase all the other ingredients. When the mincemeat is quite cold, stir in the brandy. Pack in clean, dry jars, cover with with a disc and seal. It will keep in a cool, dark cupboard indefinitely, although Delia suggests devouring it within the year...