Saturday, 12 October 2013

Mincemeat meditations & memories of Mary

I love this time of year when the darker evenings beckon us to stay indoors and indulge in more cosy, homely pursuits (not that I need much beckoning for that!).  Whilst many loath the run down to You-Know-What, I find it a valuable opportunity for stepping out and taking pause from the hectic whirligig that everyday life seems to be these days to focus on simpler pleasures. This hasn't always been the case though and the other side of the coin is that this time of year can seem hugely burdensome, adding considerably to stress levels and an already bursting schedule. The magazine shelves are filled with bumper issues on designing and making the perfect homemade, creative, visually stunning, socially rapturous and extensive festive period - but for most of us it never lives up to such unrealistic expectations.

We find ourselves surrounded by not only pressure to buy, buy, buy, but also to become perfect cooks, interior decorators, event organisers and glamorous hostesses. This is of course particularly true for women - men on the whole seem to be largely impervious to such Yule time hysteria and, as far as I have seen, seem largely (and perhaps sagely) content to take the opportunity to park on the sofa for a few days of  R&R! This combo often results in less than harmonious relationships leaving one party frazzled & inwardly seething whilst their partners wonder why they have to make such a meal of it. Now I'm not going to start about the unfair division of festive labour here - we largely bring this on ourselves. And neither would I suggest having a 'male' approach as this would I fear be a pretty dull affair!

The tricks are, I have found, to keep things simple and start early - not original ideas I know, but takes years of practise to achieve. Keeping it simple basically involves being selective - only choose to do the things that:
  • you enjoy doing
  • really must be done (e.g a bit of cleaning is necessary, full refurbishment is not!)
  • you want to (rather than feel you should) spend your precious time on - unless you are super gregarious you will find the number of invitations to social engagements far out ways any desire to be sociable!
Now I am no domestic goddess, and whilst I do on the whole prefer homemade stuff to manufactured,  I know there is no way I could achieve that perfect homespun Christmas we are so often 'sold', but there's no reason why you can't enjoy a little bit of homely creating. I love homemade festive preserves, but I know I can neither make (nor in fact eat) the whole array so I am selective and just pick the one I enjoy making - my own mincemeat. I chose this as it's easy to make (i.e stick stuff in bowl and stir), but is so much nicer than even 'luxury' brands of shop-bought, so really is worth going to the effort, such as it is.  I make this in October so it has time for the flavours to  develop, and I also make a big batch so I can furnish family & friends with a jar or two. The good thing too is this favour is often reciprocated with such treasures as a jar of homemade piccalilli, plum chutney or even home farmed honey - so win win, as they say.

Another reason I enjoy making this is, as well as the warm feelings the spicy Christmassy smells evoke, it also brings fond memories close to mind of the lovely Mary Molson, sadly no longer with us, who privileged me many years ago by sharing her much sought after and secret recipe. It contains no fruit peel which makes it appealing to many who may not like mincemeat otherwise. Now I couldn't possibly share that original recipe, as that would feel somehow disloyal - Mary was very particular about who got to know! However, over the years I have tweaked it a fair bit to suit my own tastes more and to make it vegetarian (for my non-carnivorous friends), so I can happily share my version with you.

Ingredients: makes approx 4 jars

250g each of currents, sultanas & raisins
250g vegetable suet
75g or so dried cranberries
250g apple, diced and steamed lightly and cooled
500g soft dark brown sugar (light brown if you prefer)
6tbsp Brandy
Juice of one small or half a large orange.
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 whole nutmeg, freshly grated.

It really is worth going to the trouble of getting a nutmeg grater - they are inexpensive and fresh grated nutmeg is a whole class apart to the pre-ground stuff you can buy.

So - wait for this it's really complicated........... Put everything in a large bowl (or stock pan) except the apple. Give it a thorough stir, cover and leave while you cook and cool your apple - not too much as they go to mush. Then - again, wait for it......stir them in to the rest of the mix, exhale breath loudly, mop brow and sit down a mo after all that exertion ;-)

I then jar them up - little kilner jars are pretty, but I favour recycling so reuse jam jars I've collected over the year. I think the Bon Maman jars are particularly nice for this. Whatever you use tho it's important to soak off the labels and then sterilize them first, and this can be done simply by running them through the dishwasher. You also need to ensure you do the lids up tightly.

If you've time and fancy a little craft time, you can prettify them with ribbons and a label. The mincemeat probably isn't likely to left uneaten for  long, however it will last a good  9-12 months. I usually make a double batch as raisins etc come in 500g bags and if I don't use it all it tends to just clutter up my pantry until it goes past the use by date! Also this means there's plenty spare for gift giving.

Making & giving mincemeat has become one of my simple seasonal traditions and one that I particularly enjoy. I'd love to hear about any little traditions you may have - don't be shy and do leave a comment :-)

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