Friday, December 22, 2006

Michelle Styles: MInce pies

Confession time: As a child growing up in California, I used to think -- how awful, why would anyone want to eat mincemeat -- meat made sweet. I avoided my mother's mincemeat pie like the plague, preferring pumpkin or apple. In fact anything but...
Then I spend my junior year of college at Lancaster University, Lancaster England and discovered English mince pies. During December, wherever you go, they always have mince pies. It is a big deal. Surely they couldn't be that bad. I tried one and discovered they are lovely.

Mincemeat has evolved (this happened sometime during the 19th century), and either contains beef suet (think beef lard) if traditional or else butter or margarine. No cut up chunks of meat either. Instead a delicious blend of dried fruits, brandy and sugar.

Mince pies are served in the UK as tiny individual pies, rather than as huge multi-sliced pies. This is why in the UK, it is traditional to always eat the mince pie up. And to make a wish on every mince pie you eat. In parts of the UK, it is traditional to eat a mince pie every day during the twelve days of Christmas. It is considered very bad form to refuse a mince pie if offered one -- so it is just as well that British mince pies are so very delicious.

I normally buy my mincemeat from the supermarket as they have a number of jars, and then simply spoon it into shortcrust pastry that I have made, and put on a lid using my star cookie cutter. When the pies come out of the oven, I sprinkle them with icing sugar( powder sugar). Mincemeat pies are fantastic hot from the oven. The children now do this on Christmas eve and we eat freshly made mince pies while watching the Carols from King's College Service on the telly, just after we have come back from the Village Crib service (the Navity or Chreche service)

In the UK, children leave out a mince pie and a glass of sherry for Father Christmas.

This is recipe I use if I am making pies for the Village carol service as it makes tons. Luckily, it also does keep.

2oz almonds chopped
4 oz candied peel (chopped)
1 lb cook apples, chopped but not peeled
8 oz suet (cut into small pies) or Melted butter or margarine (I use butter)
12 oz raisins
8 oz white raisins
8 oz currents
2 medium carrots
12 oz soft dark brown sugar
grated rind and juice of 2 lemons
grated rind and juice of 2 oranges
1 tsp grated nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp allspice
pinch of salt
2 Tablespoons of treacle or honey (I use honey)
6 Tablespoons or to taste of brandy or rum

Keep one quart of fruit to one side. Put rest of fruit, carrots and nuts into food processor, pulse until minced. In a large mixing bowl place, mince fruit etc, the other fruit, and everything else except for brandy. Cover with clean cloth and leave in a cool place like a pantry or refrigerator for 48 hours.
Then place in a cool oven (250F) (I use the simmering oven of the Aga) for 3 hours. Remove and allow to completely cool. Add alcohol to taste. Pack into sterilised jars as you would jam.

Have a very Happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year.
Michelle Styles

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