The Mincemeat Matrix

I grew up with mincemeat. Mom made these mincemeat cookies that were amazingly delicious, but it was usually mincemeat from the jar, once a year. Great-Grandma Ella made her own mincemeat, usually using elk as the meat in it. I didn’t get G’Grandma’s recipe, sadly, but what I did inherit was her Oregon State Grange cookbook (initial copyright 1940, then again in 1950) and that has no less than eight mincemeat recipes in it. Rounding it off as a tie-breaker with my Meta Given’s Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking (1957 edition) gave me nine recipes to compare. 

for science! 

  Meta Givens Encyclopedia of Cooking (c) 1957
Oregon Grange Cookbook (c) 1940 and 1950
    Mince Meat for Pies Mince Meat Clasen Mince Meat Old Yorkshire Mince Meat Lorimor Mince Meat Venison Mince Meat English Mince Meat Poor Man’s Mince Meat
1 chopped cooked beef lean boiled beef or pork Meat on bone before cooking beef, cooked and ground meat (added as you make the pies) beef finely chopped cooked venison or beef   beef or venison, cooked and chopped
2 chopped suet chopped or ground suet   suet, chopped suet chopped suet suet suet suet, chopped
2     Butter            
3 seedless raisins raisins raisins raisins raisins raisins raisins raisins raisins
3                 prunes (stewed or canned)
3       Dried apricots          
4 currants currants currants currants small raisins currants currants currants and sultanas  
5 candied citron citron fruit mix (in context, candied fruit)       citron    
5       Dried Dates, chopped          
6 chopped peeled apples chopped apples cooking apples apples apples apples apples apples apples, chopped
7 cider or apple juice sweet cider or any berry juice cider (add vinegar if cider is sweet) Fruit juice (cherry preferred) Fruit Juice cider Grape juice or other fruit juices, and vinegar    
7             meat stock    
8 lemons, juice and grated rind           lemon and orange peel chopped lemons, juice and rind  
9 brown sugar brown sugar brown sugar sugar (beet or cane) sugar, beet or cane sugar, beet or cane sugar, beet or cane sugar, beet or cane sugar
10   molasses molasses     molasses     molasses
11 salt salt salt salt   salt      
12   cloves cloves cloves cloves cloves cloves    
13 cinnamon cinnamon cinnamon cinnamon cinnamon cinnamon cinnamon cinnamon spices (not specified)
14 allspice allspice allspice   allspice allspice   allspice  
15   Pepper              
16   nutmeg       nutmeg nutmeg nutmeg  
16         mace mace      

Taking into account only the ingredients, the core things you can’t do without are meat. suet, apples, raisins, currants, sugar, juice, and spices. From there, it gets rapidly more complex.

Sadly, I can’t get my hands on a couple of pounds of elk meat. Beef will have to do!
Copying over the table stripped out my color coding. You can view and comment on it here, if you like. 

Now, it just so happens I’m making mincemeat this holiday season not only for myself, but for friend and fellow author Peter Grant. He sweetly asked me if I wouldn’t mind making a mince pie, and of course! I miss it, and mincemeat is one of those things most people either love or hate. Oddly, despite the plethora of recipes in the vintage cookbooks, it’s a rare thing to see in an American line up of pies these days. Much less to see it with the meat and suet in it. When Peter and I talked about the mincemeat he grew up with, in a British-South-African household, he told me it would be sweet, would have a bit of meat, and would certainly have either Van der Hum or Brandy in it. Since I’m also fond of the South African liqueur, I’m currently out of Van der Hum and it’s not easy to get here in North Texas. I do have Calvados, which should pair very nicely with the mincemeat, given all the apples. 

Most of the mincemeat recipes I have will make a fairly large batch of the stuff, which makes sense given it’s a bit of a process to make it. How large? Well, one recipe calls for a ‘washbasin full of apples.’ I think I’ll be making about a gallon of it, and freezing what I don’t use in the Christmas Eve pie, so I’ll be able to make some of my mom’s stuffed mincemeat cookies later in the winter. Mincemeat, rich, sweet, and filling, is very much a wintertime treat. 

I’m planning to make, and use, candied lemon and orange peel in my mincemeat. It looks like the ladies used to simply grind up whole lemons, as well as citron. Citron is something I almost certainly can’t get – it’s a citrus fruit that was a common, shelf-stable flavoring agent in the time before refrigeration and rapid global transportation. It was usually candied, although the recipes don’t specify that, to help it last for years when kept stored away from light and moisture in a tightly sealed container. Now, with fresh fruit all available on demand at the local market, it’s hard to find and often the candied fruits you can find at the holiday baking season are low-quality. I’ll make my own – it’s not difficult, but is a little time consuming. 

Beef suet was used for the fat, partly because it was handy in the era before anti-fat fads got rolling. The other reason is that it helped preserve the mince meat. Suet is hard, and as the fat rose to the top and solidified during cooling, it formed an air-tight seal at the top of the jar, meaning that molds and bacteria couldn’t reach the sweet stuff, or grow in it. You wouldn’t want to do this nowadays, of course. We know a lot more about botulism and it’s predilection for growing under anaerobic conditions, for instance. Beef suet isn’t easy to find, but as I don’t plan to use it for sealing, I can likely substitute in butter or lard. I will try to get it from my local butcher, for flavor reasons. 

My plan is to grind, rather than chop, all of this. I know that’s what G’Grandma Ella did, only with the old fashioned clamp meat grinder. I know she did, because I can remember sitting on a tall chair in her kitchen, turning the handle. I had to have been about 6 or 7 when this happened, if I was small enough to need a counter-height chair! Instead of a hand-crank, I have a grinder attachment for my stand mixer, which should make this relatively easy to process for cooking. Finally, I’ll likely cook it down with the instantpot, so I don’t have to worry about stirring and not burning it. I have all these labor-saving devices for a reason and I’m going to use them. 

(illustrations rendered with MidJourney) 



8 responses to “The Mincemeat Matrix”

  1. It’s been years since I had any mincemeat. If an errant pie happens to hitch a ride for your trip to CC, I’d be willing to take the miscreant off your hands.

    1. We will see what happens!

  2. Technical comment: The top blog image (lattice pie) — I assume that’s MJ ver 4, and I was struck by the similarity of the wandering pseudo-lattice work to the dozen-fingered-hands problems that are so persistent in that release. Made me wonder if the two issues are related at the AI level.

    1. It’s not V4, or at least I didn’t add that modifier when I rendered it. I just wanted a quick image of a lattice pie. I do think you’re correct about the geometry. I’m not sure that can be programmed out, either, so it will be interesting to see what happens in the next months of development.

  3. Unfortunately, that recipe book is still in the container, but the typical South African one – the one Peter is probably familiar with, involved no meat at all. In Australia it is called ‘fruit mince’. The one I made involved adding brandy for several months (and did include meat).

  4. I just looked up “elk mincemeat recipe” – and there are several! I love the Internet.

    Marie Callender’s used to carry mincemeat pie seasonally, I don’t think they do any more. One year I bugged my mom to buy one and was not impressed – but I think I was about ten. One day perhaps I’ll give it another go.

  5. My Army buddy shared her aunt’s all fruit mincemeat recipe. It’s stunningly delicious, and I bet adding a bit of meat to it will just add to the complex flavors. Not bothering with it until February, though, just too much going on until then.

  6. I live mincemeat. I may have stashed a couple packages of shelf-stable mincemeat mini-pies in the cold closet in my office. And I might bring home a few jars of mincemeat once the first surge of clearance shoppers ebbs. It’s something fascinating to track across time as the meat part fades away – like cheese curd, which today has no cheese at all, and when it originated, was lightly sweetened farmers’ cheese (sort of like cottage cheese) with lemon added.