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Does Anyone Still Care about Mincemeat?

 What is mincemeat?

 Come on – no one wants to know what mincemeat is anymore. Do they? It's vaguely associated with Christmas...?

All right, mincemeat is a mixture of chopped fruit, suet, spices, often brandy, and (less and less) meat. It originated in the Middle Ages as a way to conserve meat after the late fall slaughter. It remained with us until the advent of refrigeration, and has since become for most of us an unknown oddity.

We have looked at a fair number of recipes and are surprised at how much variation there is among them. We shouldn't be surprised, really, considering that some of the recipes have been evolving for 600 to 1,000 years.

James Beard, who worked so hard to keep old traditions alive, explains how mincemeat was put up in his childhood home in Oregon in the early 20th century:

"Mincemeat was … prepared a year in advance. Great crocks were brought up from the cellar, washed out and prepared for the day of work. Meat—good beef chuck and tongue—was boiled and allowed to cool in the broth. The fat was skimmed off and the beef taken out, relieved of all fatty particles and chopped till very fine. Chopped suet, chopped fruit, raisins and currants were put to soak in boiled cider, cognac and sherry. Then all the ingredients were combined and put in crocks to mellow for weeks before being transferred to jars, usually preceded by several baths of wines and spirits. When the mincemeat was ready for use, chopped apple and sometimes nuts were added to it to give it firmer texture. This mincemeat made superb tarts and pies and was used throughout the winter months for baking and for varied desserts, such as a mincemeat pudding and even a flan with whipped cream, so help me."

Mr. Beard's recipe, as clearly noted, relied on generous amounts of alcohol for flavor and preservation. An entirely different version, from Ruth Graves Wakefield, of the Toll House (and therefore Toll House Cookie fame), provides a version with no alcohol, although it requires pretty generous amounts of apple cider, boiled down to a thick syrup.

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Related Articles:
Ruth Wakefield's Mincemeat
Our Fabulously Good Mincemeat
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