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Sweet Meat

November 4, 2009
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I won’t mince my words, I think mincemeat  should contain meat, or it should be called something else.  Much like the famous turkey made out of tofu or soy hotdogs.  What’s up with that?  If you don’t want to eat meat, don’t.  Just eat the tofu if that is what you want, you’re not honoring a turkey, soybeans or tradition by over-processing foodstuffs into meat shapes.  End of rant, maybe.

Preserving meat like this is unnecessary these days with freezers in almost every household.  But sometimes preserving tradition can be just as important, otherwise we may lose our way and our connections to the past.  The funny thing about this post, is that I was just going to post my recipe, some photos, and tell a funny story about Hangdog and mincemeat pie.  But, as I started the prep work I started thinking about how people eat too much dessert and sweets these days, dessert should be an occasional treat, not everyday fare after meals.  A dessert such as this should be reserved for special meals.

The other thing that struck me was that mincemeat is something you either really like, or strongly dislike.  And for most people, the meat and fat are the culprits, hence the now common mince made with only the fruit component, and oh yeah, here we go again, vegetable suet??   What would Weston Price think?

And one more thing I realized as I was gathering my ingredients, I realized the “bad” fixings that make up the bulk of my recipe have traveled zero miles, and the more PC components like raisins, sugars and spices have traveled the most.  So for most people making PC mincemeat, unless you live where there is abundant cane for sugar and grapes for raisin production, the typical homemade or purchased mincemeat does not qualify.

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Mincemeat is very rich, best eaten in small quantities, and it’s keeping qualities as a preserve are unexcelled, so I do not make mincemeat every year.  Our family tradition of mincemeat started with me, I begged for the recipe from our neighbor.  Every year we celebrated Thanksgiving at our neighbor’s, and they celebrated Christmas with us, and they always brought the mincemeat pies.  Anytime I get a whiff of mincemeat, I think back to huge holiday dinners, prepared on their cookstove, and all of us crammed into their tiny dining room sharing a home cooked meal and good community. 

After my neighbor was widowed, she moved back to Northern Idaho, to stay near her children.  She was happy to pass on her recipe to me – to her it was common fare from her days as logging camp cook, making do with venison and cooking up the delicious neck roasts to combine with raisins and abundant fall apples in order make a storable preserve in the days before refrigeration was common.  I am sure the hardworking loggers were enamored with the culinary skills she wrought on the deer brought back to the camp kitchen.

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She was quite a gal – here is newspaper clipping that I keep with her recipe and the accompanying letter.  Dated December 30, 1971, she is showing off her prize winning crocheted tablecloth.  Made in one piece, she had garnered the top prize in the National Grange Needlework Contest.  For her 1000 hours of work, she received $1,160.00.  That was a lot of money at that time, and she was the second woman in our Grange to win the contest, a friend had won it the previous year.  It was a big deal to me, I was 14, she was 81, and she was quite the role model for me.  I never could understand though why she insisted on wearing a dress, even to chop wood!  But if wearing a dress equates with crochet skills, I know why I am not good at crocheting ;)  
 
OK, Memory Lane is closed…

On to the ingredients, and the methods.  Besides carrying on tradition by continuing to make this mincemeat, I believe good food starts with good ingredients.  The more local, the better.  And the correct ingredients have a huge impact on flavor too.  I was appalled to read in the Ball Blue Book of Preserving, a mincemeat recipe that called for ground beef.  The dumbing down continues –  a word here, then a long forgotten tool, and what used to be roast beef, chopped or ground coarse with a meat chopper, now is simplified down to ground beef.  Most cooks know that texture is all important in food.  Ground beef as we know it these days is hamburger, and does not have the texture or mouthfeel you want in a sweet pie.  Or least not what I would be expecting anyway. 

The next part may be offal, and in fact it should be if I am going to walk my talk.  I’ll just run through the mincemeat ingredients that were supplied from our farm.  I won’t elaborate about the raisins, and sugar. 

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Beautiful leaf fat, the best for making suet.  The term suet these days just means animal fat to most people.  But this is the best for cooking, and is hard to find, unless you have the animal processed right in front of your nose.  I removed the kidneys and froze the leaf fat for later use.

The next main ingredient is the beef roast.

100_2384Mabel specified neck roast from beef or venison, cooked and seasoned as for table use.  The neck meat is very flavorful. 

I browned the roast in homemade butter.  Grassfed sure makes a difference doesn’t it?100_2357
Seasoned liberally with salt and pepper.
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Then pressured cooked the roast for about 45 minutes.  Delicious.

While the roast was cooking, I prepared the suet.
100_4854Cut the suet in small pieces so you can put it through your Universal #2 food chopper :)

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I used the fine cutter for the suet.

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Two cups suet. 

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We like the meat chopped, and in recognizable pieces.  However, this part is subjective, you can chop the meat with a meat chopper like I used for the suet.  Try the different cutters to see which consistency suits what is your idea of meat in mincemeat.

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Of, course, this project is of great interest to the helpers.

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The spices are subjective too.  I used cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, ginger, and black pepper.

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My recipe calls for King apples, but they are a common Northwest heirloom, maybe not available in other areas.  Any tart cooking apple will do.

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Combine all ingredients.

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Mix well, and simmer for an hour until apples are tender.

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The finished product to be tucked away for the flavors to meld until the holidays.

I understand the yuck factor about mincemeat, I have heard all the jokes, as if we have progressed beyond this type of fare.  But for me it represents fond memories of childhood holiday meals, my bell steer Brooks, the scent of Della’s flank as I milked, gazing out the kitchen window as I churned the butter, or peeled the King apples.  Truly, time in a bottle.

Since this post is outside the box for many, I have linked to Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday post for this week.

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35 Comments leave one →
  1. November 5, 2009 1:13 am

    Hello from New Zealand. The only part the mincemeat I grew up with lacked compared to your recipe was the roast beef. I can’t remember it being cooked, however my Mother did lace the mixture with whiskey – a single malt Scotch – and it was a good preservative.

    Sadly she now buys her mincemeat. Your recipe has reminded me to be sure to get Mum’s original one when I visit for Christmas. She even used to use a mincer like yours. Gosh, you’ve brought back some happy memories for me.

    Many thanks, Michelle

    • November 5, 2009 5:42 am

      Michelle, brandy and whiskey are common mincemeat additives here too, although this recipe uses vinegar instead. You have to be sure to get your mum’s recipe and maybe even her mincer. :) I have many old cookbooks with recipes for mincemeat, and I think the flavors are popular so people use whatever is handy, like green tomatoes for instance. In areas with plentiful game, the recipes seem to favor the meat type. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Marcia in Wyoming permalink
    November 5, 2009 4:54 am

    Great post! I could almost smell the spices…do you can or freeze the finished product or does it keep a while in the fridge? Marcia

    • November 5, 2009 5:50 am

      Marcia, I can it, but I decided to err on the side of caution and not give the recipe because it simply states to seal hot. However I know that gives the USDA a conniption since this contains meat. I cannot recommend anyone following the canning guidelines and canning this for 90 minutes at 10 pounds pressure either, that is an awful lot of cooking for something that did start out with some nutritional value… . I think freezing would be the best and most convenient. And it would keep awhile in the fridge too, since contrary to popular belief it contains enough high acid ingredients, in large enough quantities,it is actually high acid. I am still here, and Mabel lived into her late 90’s :) Was it the mincemeat or the crocheting that made her so hardy? :)

  3. November 5, 2009 5:54 am

    Wendy, Yep, that’s the handsome guy with the blue eyes. He is my shadow. I checked out your links, your guy is a cutie, and it looks like their eyes are the same! I had a Black Tri Aussie named Zeke :)

  4. November 5, 2009 6:07 am

    I haven’t eaten the meat mincemeat in a very long time. I have some canned fruit mincemeat from back home that I use to make the following dessert.

    A simple dessert:
    Take one apple and remove the core (keep the bottom bit in).
    Take a big spoonful of mincemeat and stuff in in the core.
    Put it in the microwave for 2 or 3 minutes until the apple is cooked.

    YUM!

    • November 5, 2009 6:17 am

      Billie, that sounds good, we bake apples with raising too, so good this time of year. I’m going to try your recipe!

  5. November 5, 2009 6:08 am

    What a cool post – have never tried mincemeat before so now I’m gonna have to hunt down one of the old timers and beg ‘em to let me try some. =)

    • November 5, 2009 6:19 am

      Annette, you might find some gems, and some good stories too :) It’s pretty good, but so rich that it is best in tarts or hand pies, or Billie’s recipe above sounds good too. I forgot to add, it tastes better cooked on the woodstove too ;)

  6. Doris permalink
    November 5, 2009 6:43 am

    Over processed is too true !! I’ll resist starting my own rant, but couldn’t agree more with your rant!

    I so enjoyed your trip down memory lane, she was a treasure!! Brings back my own memories, thank you!

    Leaf fat? I’m guessing that is the fat from the intestinal/stomach area? Are those poopy looking things kidneys? What animal was that? I have never seen kidneys look like that before.

    WOW! I had to read that three times before I got that that orange looking stuff was butter. Amazing! Looks like the color of the egg yolks from my grass fed chickens. Della rocks! I am SOOOOOO jealous! (in the best way of course =p)

    Well don’t even know that I have ever tasted mincemeat, or that I like it, but your ingredients all look so wonderful that I am pretty sure I would like to try it. But wait, you tease, where is the recipe? I’m pretty sure that is just cruel to get my mouth watering like that and then take it away, lol.

    I’m not sure why the preserving standards have changed, but I think it has more to do with the poor quality of factory farmed food than that the old ways were not good enough as my mom canned for years using the old standards and we never once got sick from eating what she processed. Of course she was meticulously clean, of which the standards have fallen in modern times also. Evidently some folks have difficulty following a recipe precisely also.
    Anyways, would love a copy of the recipe exactly as your neighbor penned it and also how she preserved it.

    Loved this post, beautiful!! Thank you.

    Doris
    damaertz@hotmail.com

    • November 5, 2009 1:14 pm

      Doris, the leaf fat is the fat that protects the kidneys and that whole package comes off clean. The intestinal fat is called caul fat and isn’t as high of quality, but great for soap making. That’s why it is a crap shoot to buy suet – meat cutters (supermarket) these days unless they have been around a while, don’t even know how to break down a carcass, they just recieve boxed beef and go from there. Another lost art. Lumping the leaf fat in with the other fat from the carcass would be the same as saying the chuck is the same as the loin. As in everything, it is the subtle differences that make the DIFFERENCE ;)

      I’m still on the fence about giving out that recipe, not that it is secret, but who knows, maybe Big Brother is looking for renegade food preservers :) My Fanny Farmer, James Beard edition, has a great recipe that is similar, although it recommends a shorter canning time than current rules. I think it would be suicide to follow the Ball Blue Book recipe that calls for ground beef. When you start out with bad ingredients (e.Coli anyone?) you have a great chance of getting sick, and it isn’t that canning isn’t safe, just industrial food production. I’m still thinking about it…

      • Doris permalink
        November 13, 2009 9:57 pm

        Thank you SO MUCH!!
        I just wanted to say that my goat guru lady friend (another treasure) that lives in the Blue Mountains near Weston says that our immune systems are fully armed against e.coli due to the constant exposure to goat poopy. lol. I understand that it’s those living in a sterile environment that most susceptible to that nasty bug, a-n-d evidently it’s the feeding of corn that has changed the ph of the gut producing a really nasty version of e.coli. Another reason to go back to the older healthier ways of farming and eating.
        Keep up the good work!!
        DM

    • November 5, 2009 1:17 pm

      Doris, I forgot to say those are the kidneys from Brooks, Della’s two year old son. The leaf fat weighed 8 pounds, and I need to render the rest.

  7. November 5, 2009 9:04 am

    What a beautiful crocheted table cloth! My Gma (born 1900) did wonderful work like that and I’m so honored to have a couple pieces. As a kid I was the only one who like Mincemeat…however of course it wasn’t the real deal. I was a little concerned that the kidneys were going in….I was skimming too fast! It looks so good. Are those raisins? I was still skim scanning in a hurry today. Have a great weekend!

    • November 5, 2009 12:44 pm

      Diane, my mom was the crochet queen here, she could look at a piece and recreate it, same with knitting. Crochet just escapes me – while sewing escaped my mom. We learned to admire each other’s work :) How nice you have your Grandma’s work, sometimes later generations do not appreciate the dedication and skill it takes to create something by hand.

      LOL, I have never had mincemeat without the meat!!

  8. November 5, 2009 10:02 am

    I have never tried mincemeat myself, but if I do it will have to have meat in it, because I completely agree with your opening rant. I have some friends who are vegetarians, which I have zero problem with in concept. However, when they eat things that are labeled and marketed as imitation meat, it really bugs me. If you want to eat turkey, bacon, steak, chicken, whatever, then eat those things! If you want to eat mushy soy products, then eat those. But don’t confuse the two! As you say, you’re not really honoring anything when you do.

    • November 5, 2009 1:04 pm

      Issa, I too have vegetarian friends with the same habits, and it doesn’t matter to me how they choose to eat, however, they can’t seem to keep quiet about our choices. Saying things like, you killed a cow to make soap or mincemeat? It’s hard to explain – No, we didn’t kill a cow to do those things, we are using ALL the parts that we can in order to cut down the waste. The mincemeat is a perfect way to stretch a small amount of meat over a long period of time. A treat, not just standard fare everyday. I think to some when they think we have a 1/2 of a beef in our freezer, it sounds like a lot, but it is straight on honest meat eating. Not steak every time we eat beef, but many different cuts of meat and the organs too. And we eat almost all of it before we replace it too. Our grassfed-only cattle are sequestering more carbon than any grain field, but that is hard for people who do not work the land to fathom. Anytime you break the soil, whether for a home garden or a crop you are putting yourself into a high input, (usually off site too) situation just to get the crop to maturity. But, livestock in general have received a bad rap from all the bad press surrounding factory farming. I believe farming WITHOUT livestock is not sustainable. But, that’t how I see it playing out here, on our land in the gardens, and fields. Others may have different opinions… .

      • November 5, 2009 1:49 pm

        My vegetarian friends are usually quiet about meat-eaters, although sometimes they will make a side comment about meat being “gross”.

        That’s a good point you make about when you have the whole animal to eat, you eat the whole animal, rather than focusing completely on certain cuts.

  9. November 5, 2009 4:25 pm

    I realllllyy love your passing along the steps and pictures of how to make this. I have anxiety so often about how these wholesome basics are no longer considered basic and the knowledge is disappearing faster than maybe any other time in history. My Grandma never made her own mincemeat, but the two years we went to summer camp as kids, she made and mailed cookies she called mincemeat cookies…pretty basic but delicious, and my sister and I still reminisce about it. Looking at your pics answered my longtime question of just what is in mincemeat…it makes sense that such a delicious food would come as the best use of real farm products and seasonal bounty. There are tastes I’ve barely begun to discover just from trying to cook at home using everything up, even though it’s not the same quality as optimum farm food. One of my favorites now is roasting sweet potatoes and roast beef together, with the caramelized juices from the roast potatoes combined with some of the rich roast juice, sweet and salty. Can’t say I even liked sweet potatoes before, but now they’re a feast. I can totally understand how the richest bits of this and that combined for flavor to pack a real taste treat became our forbears’ treasured recipes. Thank you for helping keep it more than a memory!

  10. Norma permalink
    November 5, 2009 4:27 pm

    Hello from Australia! Thanks for the beautiful trip down Memory Lane!
    My Grandmother was born in 1886 and taught me to crochet when I was very
    sick with Pneumonia. Those talents seem long gone and I have never seen
    the quality of work this generation produced. I find your web VERY interesting
    and appreciate you sharing these almost lost skills. I do make soap, but didn’t
    understand the different fat parts.

  11. November 5, 2009 5:06 pm

    As per usual, a beautifully written, documented, thoughtful (if not downright mouth watering) post.

    cheers,

    HDR

  12. John permalink
    November 5, 2009 5:32 pm

    Measure your mincemeat. To each 3 quarts of mincemeat add 2 1/2 cups good grade brandy and 1 cup good grade pale dry sherry. Pack into a stone ware crock or equvilent cover well and store in a cool place.
    It should keep well for several months. Check every few days and as the liquid absorbs add more brandy and sherry. This is a very old English recipe.

  13. November 6, 2009 2:48 am

    Sadly Mum’s mincer is long gone. Such a pity as I’d use it to make my own ground meat. If anyone out there is looking for suet try befriending a butcher’s shop. They may have to order it, but it should be a problem if you are a regular/semi regular shopper there.

    Happy mincemeat making and eating!

  14. Marcia in Wyoming permalink
    November 6, 2009 4:50 am

    Marcia here again…Do you use your rendered beef tallow for soap, candles, etc.? And do you have recipes for such – or if you have already posted them in the past could you link them (or however you do that:) We got our yearly honey (60lbs.) and about 15 lbs. of beeswax from our beekeeper who keeps hives in our hay fields recently and have been making beeswax candles and salve and lip balm…fun. Next year I would like to try soap and candles from our beef tallow. Thanks! (John’s recipe sounds really good – will have to try it)

  15. November 6, 2009 4:38 pm

    mmmmm I’ve never tried to mke mincemeat, but you’re inspiring me. I have done traditional Christmas puddings made with suet – they taste so much better than making them with butter, must be something to do with the different melting temperatures of the different fats? I usually grind the suet myself; one time I couldn’t fine it at the market and had to ask the butcher for some. He told me to always ask for a piece off from around the kidneys. It’s nice to know that I was given good advice :-)

  16. November 9, 2009 4:44 am

    Mincemeat pie reminds me of my Grandma. I think I’ll make one for Thanksgiving. Thank you for reminding me of those lovely memories!

  17. Heather permalink
    November 9, 2009 8:02 pm

    Just wanted to say “thank you” for all of your posts.

    See ya soon!

    Heather

  18. greenhorn permalink
    November 30, 2009 4:42 pm

    Can we get on your “list” for purchasing beef? Do you have any recommendations for butter, since we cannot get grassfed butter easily – yet- I was wondering if you know anyone who sells it? Thank you!

    GH

  19. Joy Kennedy permalink
    October 28, 2010 6:38 am

    My husband’s aunt from Iowa would make lovely mincemeat and would freeze it for Christmas. But real mincemeat like she made is very rich. In the bounty that is Christmas, mince pies seemed too heavy for the family especially since they didn’t live on a farm working hard all day but in Chicago. So it sat in the freezer until I suggested mince apple pie made with very tart apples. For a very large poor Texas family like mine, a mincemeat pie couldn’t be stretched far enough so that everyone got a taste and two pies were too expensive on resources. So apple mincemeat pies were substituted.

    The Chicago clan loved, loved, loved it. The tart apples combined with the rich raisiny, meaty mincemeat was very exotic to modern taste. Each jar of Adele’s mincemeat made two glorious pies bursting with flavor and very savory.

    Aunt Adele has passed on now. Boy do we miss her delicious mincemeat, gooseberry jam, homemade chocolates! Unfortunately no one has her recipe which she didn’t write down so we’ve lost that tradition. I won’t attempt her mincemeat since I know ranches and don’t trust commercial beef. Unless I know where my cow comes from and that it is healthy, I’ve given up beef fed commercial feed. With all the recent bad eggs, I’m even wary about them too. I remember when it was save to eat sunny side up eggs and make eggnog at Christmas. Sigh! Unfortunately my suburb doesn’t allow chickens.

    • October 28, 2010 6:54 am

      Joy, what a great story! And what a good idea to stretch the mincemeat pie with apples. You know, you might want to try Eatwild for a list of producers of farm raised meats and eggs. Producers are grouped by state, ahd maybe there is someone near you with clean meat. Lots of great health information on the site also.

      Here is their website:

      http://eatwild.com/

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