what’s in a jar


My mum makes mincemeat every single year. For years I helped, stirring the ever darkening mass of dried fruit, candied peel, apples, nuts and suet, then squashing it into jars.  I liked the way the house smelt, a spiced and boozy fanfare for festive things to come. We’d have the first batch of mince pies in mid December, the pastry scented with orange zest, still warm from the oven.

My dad would eat whole pies in one gulp, which we thought was hilarious and my mum would say ‘Martin really, you’ll just encourage them‘ Which of course he did. Jar after jar was spooned into round after round of pastry, warm pies presented at every opportunity, to postmen and neighbours, callers, and us, especially us. Of course a mince-pie was always left for father christmas on christmas eve. The next morning we’d find it half eaten and Ben would say ‘It’s icing sugar and Dad did it‘ while Rosie stared at Father Christmas’s snowy footprints.


Then for years I didn’t help. I didn’t eat the pies either. I’d eat a whole jar of mincemeat though, crouched on the cellar stairs when everyone else was in bed. Then I’d feel as dark as the contents of the jar I’d just eaten and furious. Furious with the mincemeat, my with mum for making the bloody stuff, with myself.

It went on for years, mincemeat, like so many things, was something to be battled with, first with steely resistance, then otherwise. Later, it was on a list, two actually, to avoid and gratitude. I can’t remember exactly how it worked? Avoiding things but being grateful for them at the same time maybe! Looking back it all seems so absolutely absurd, comical even, that it’s hard to remember it made absolute sense at the time.


I don’t make mincemeat every single year. However when I do, everything is there, swirling around in the spiced and boozy scent, 41 years of mincemeat, of pans stirred and pans not stirred. I could get absorbed in detail, nostalgic or absurd, but I don’t, enjoying instead the heady vapours and a nip of brandy.

Luca clambers up on chair and demands a stir. His little hands clasp the wooden spoon and flick it upwards and then downwards splattering the stove, an amber fleck handing on his wrist ‘ It’s hot meat’ he tells me.  I feel relieved Luca is a boy and yearn to talk to my mum.  As I spoon stuff into jars and screw on the lids, I remind myself it’s only mincemeat.


Usually I make Jane Grigsons mincemeat (which is turn Mrs Beeton) from English Food. Not having found suet, I made Gloria Nicol’s apple and quince mincemeat, two batches actually, the first back in October. Unlike JG’s recipe the mincemeat is cooked, in cider no less, for about an hour, the result is glorious, thick, rich, fragrant, well-spiced mincemeat to which you add (plenty of) brandy. Purist will not agree, but I think it is just as good as mincemeat with suet.

Apple and Quince mincemeat

Adapted from Gloria Nicols recipe in the Guardian.

Gloria notes this makes 1.75 g of mincemeat. Both my batches filled 3 standard jars and one smaller jar. For those in Rome I bought all the Ingredients from Emporio delle Spezie in Testaccio, it is an Aladdin’s cave of spices, herbs, seasonings, dried fruit, nuts, grains and tea – all sold by weight.

  • 500ml cider
  • 225 g soft brown sugar
  • 1 kg Bramley apples (or mixture of quince and apples), peeled and cored
  • 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 100 g dates
  • 100 g currants
  • 150 g raisins
  • 150 g sultanas
  • 100 g candied peel, chopped
  • 50 chopped almonds
  • juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 150ml brandy

Put 3 scrupulously clean standard jars and a smaller one with lids in a low oven to sterilize for 10 minutes.

In a large heavy based pan warm the cider and sugar, stirring to until the sugar has dissolved. Peel, core and chop the apples and grate the quince if using them. Add all ingredients except the brandy, to the pan. Over a low flame let the mincemeat simmer and bubble gently for around 1 hour – stirring every now and then – until the apples have turned into puree and the mixture looks rich and thickened.

Remove from the heat, allow the mincemeat to cool and then stir in the brandy. Spoon the mincemeat into the sterilised jars and seal immediately. Leave for a month – and up to a year – to mature before opening.


Mincemeat tart

Why wait until christmas ? I like my pastry plain, unsweetened and more crisp than crumbly. My tin is a fluted and measures 8″ across.

  • 120 g plain flour
  • 60 g cold butter (or a mix of butter and lard)
  • a pinch of salt
  • iced water
  • a jar of mincemeat

In a bowl rub the fat into the pastry with your fingertips until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the salt and then enough water to bring the ingredients together into a smooth soft dough.

On a floured board roll the dough into a round a little large than the tin. Carefully lift the dough into the tin and press it gently into the base and the edges. Trim the overlapping pastry and set the scraps aside. Leave the pastry case the fridge for 30 minutes.

Spoon the mincemeat into the case and then decorate the top with lattice or a pattern. Brush the pasty with beaten egg and bake at 180° for 30 minutes.

DSC_4879 DSC_4897


Filed under almonds, candied fruit, christmas, jams and preserves, preserves and conserves, Puddings, recipes, tarts, winter recipes

55 responses to “what’s in a jar

  1. Ha! And I bet you can’t get Bramley apples in Rome either. Hence the quinces, I guess. That’s brave too. I always find them such hard work, such tough flesh. With either apples or quinces it sounds great though. I’ll try it.
    I think it’s poor form to link to one’s own blog in a comment, but it’s the only place I know online where my mother’s lemon mincemeat is recorded, and it’s a family favourite. Worth a go one year? http://margaret21.wordpress.com/2009/12/03/christmas-cooking/

  2. Oh Rachel, you make me want to weep with this post. You are very brave. It is only mincemeat but it is also much more and you should enjoy every last pie made with it. x

  3. Jere Wineman

    The absolute favorite pie of my husband. Married 66 years,was Mince Meat. He passed away in April, so this Thanksgiving was very hard cooking wise, for I had no one to make,and eat,a mince meat pie . So even tho your post above brought a tear or two , I will just make your recipe, and eat it myself , and think of all the pies Glenn enjoyed. I do so enjoy your posts. Jere

    • rachel

      Hi Jere, I am touched and thinking of you, and in turn Glenn. Thank you for this message, I hope you do make the mincemeat, lets raise a pie and a glass to Glenn. All best, Rachel x

      • Jere Wineman

        Thank you Rachel for your sweet message. I wish the merriest and best of Christmas for you and Luca. I surely will make your mince meat and a pie! Will let you know!! Jere

    • Susie Pribel

      My Heart hurts for you, oh to have some one to love that long. Enjoy your pie and I miss my mom’s mincemeat pies and will have use this recipe to make one in her honor, and I will think of you too. Susie P

  4. Eha

    Since mince meat, especially for Yuletide ‘things’, is in no way ‘my thing’ I read your wonderful family prose, placed myself where you have been, I so trust the forthcoming Season treats you kindly and I send you the warmest, sunniest wishes [perchance sans mince in my case 😉 !] from the antipodes. OK, would offer you a prawn salad with liots of fresh greens , some lamb perchance and a huge pavlova to finish!

    • rachel

      Yes to it all, to prawn salad with fresh greens , lamb perchance and a huge pavlova….it sounds like christmas heaven…warm, spicy, boozy wishes to you too x

  5. my mother, far-flung on the western coast of washington (USA) would, every year of my childhood, make mincemeat. the real-deal mincemeat, complete with suet. complete with candied orange peel that she herself had candied, the week prior. probably complete with a copper pot she’d smelted herself. i can’t vouch for that last bit. but all the rest, i remember vividly.

    for bringing that back, and so much more, you are the best.

    xo, and happy almost-december to you,

    • rachel

      I thought about you writing this, the candied peel obviously (plans – we will see) and then the mincemeat as I knew you made it. I am going to try a new Roman type panforte next week, I think you will like it. Love to you five from us two x

  6. Is ‘mixed spice’ how you Brits say Allspice?

    • rachel

      E – It is. and thank goodness you noted it, as that is instead of the nutmeg, clove and cinnamon I wrote in the list. Amended.

      • Um, sorry to disagree.Rachel. Mixed spice is a mixture of spices, usually cinnammon nutmeg and allspice (maybe cloves, coriander,mace as well), but allspice is something different. In French it’s called Piment de la Jamaïque and is a black berry something like a juniper in appearance

      • rachel

        Thank you so much M, I had no idea, I thought allspice was a mix of all- the- spices eg mixed spice (I didn’t use mixed spice but nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon separately.) I will add it back into the recipe and try to find some RX

      • I reckon it’s not that important. Warm cheery spices – all good – and very nostalgia-making for England at this time of year x

  7. Rachel- is there a recipe you’d recommend for anyone too lazy and greedy (ahem) to (a) not have made any mincemeat yet but (b) want to start making (and eating) pies ASAP (ie without a month-long wait)? Oh and suet-free…. (Perhaps I should just nip to m&s???) Thanks for putting me in the holiday spirit!!

    • rachel

      Hello – This recipe only need a couple of weeks and to be honest we ate the first small jar the next day and it was pretty perfect. Although the recipe list is long, it is a nice lazy panful…..or M&S, if I had one in Rome, I’d be there.x

  8. Rachel, It’s “just” happy childhood memories. Luca will have them now too! Hugs. toni

  9. Thanks for sharing the recipe. I’ll be using this mincemeat as my “secret” substitute for mostarda bolognese next time I make Pinza alla Bolognese 🙂

  10. Yum! (laconic of me but true!)

  11. Shopafrolic

    You are very brave Rachel – and you write so beautifully. The honesty is painful but good.
    Last year I made my first ever mince pies in my AGA but with shop bought mincemeat. This year I’ll try it your way. Kisses to you and your little man from me and my little man here in the UK – Sally xx

  12. Hilary

    oh, this brought back memories for me Rachel – I used to mince all the fruit for my mother (in one of those mincers that clamps onto the edge of the bench). I love mincemeat and mince pies but never make either.
    Your account of angry eating is very moving – so glad you got past that to where you are today!! xxH

    • Hilary

      and your article in the Guardian is wonderful (puts Abruzzo on the list)!!

      • rachel

        Thanks, I have lots to learn about writing in a newspaper…lots. But yes put it on the list amazing place

    • rachel

      My mum has a mincer that clamps…..All rather revealing today, NOt quite sure why, maybe the result of writing that very factual piece. I have lots and lots to learn about writing for a newspaper. I hope you try the mincemeat, dead easy and delish x

  13. laura

    Even when you write about something that is foreign to me and my experience, you make it come so alive that I understand it. Thank you and … WOW!

  14. Hi Rach—Avoidance and Gratitude–there’s two items hard-pressed to occupy the same space; I’m grateful that you’ve moved past that difficult time and can write about it so beautifully, and with humor. Now-on to the pies. In this mostly veggie household, the version sans suet would be ideal.Thanks for this delectable seasonal recipe

    • rachel

      I loved that is suet free….as I said, just as tasty. Thanks N, not sure where this came from today, maybe a reaction to book and artucle which feel more detached. Hope all’s well with you all xx ps when when will I have my hand on the book?

  15. oh, a P.S.
    terrific article in The Guardian, and your photographs —stunning. congrats!

  16. Oh, my dear. Have a merry December. xx

  17. Pingback: Links: Mincemeat, Harvest Crackers, and a Winner | Food in Jars

  18. Great article, glad I found you via Sam Dunham (thanks Sammy). My wife Ruth has been making non-suet organic mincemeat almost forever. She even makes her own organic candied peel from scratch (difficult to get here in the Majella mountains of Abruzzo). Last year I managed to pick up some quality organic mincemeat from the UK, but she still made her own. Of course it’s much better than anything that you can buy, and the ingredients are sourced by hand by us. It was stir-up Sunday at our house yesterday albeit a week late I think. So while I was making stairs to go up into the attic, Ruth had made three jars of her own organic non-suet mincemeat and two huge Christmas puddings too (yes both organic and non-suet). Christmas would not be the same without it!

    • rachel

      Hello Stew, so nice to have you here via super Sam (she was the advice behind the trip) What a beautiful combination – organic mincemeat with English roots being made in the stunning Majella (I loved our trip, the olive oil being pressed and the cozy meals…… but the short days and missed views made me sad) Thanks for the message and glad to be in touch c

  19. Elayna

    Just read a wonderful article on Abruzzo in The Guardian only to realise its written by one of my favourite bloggers! Absolutely fantastic, beautifully written and has most definitely gone on the ever growing list of trips to take. The tart looks a treat too. Elayna x

  20. I tried to make Christmas pudding this year and had a problem finding suet myself. I ended up freezing Crisco and grating it, which worked pretty well. I can’t imagine it would be as good in the context though 🙂


  21. Lovely hot meat Rachel. And a great article in the Guardian on Abruzzo. And great to have yet another excuse to go foraging for quince. Sophie

  22. Adriana

    Your story touched me deeply, thank you for sharing it in such a beautiful way.

  23. Pingback: Links: Mincemeat, Harvest Crackers, and a Winner | Canning For Life

  24. Ena

    I would love to make this mincemeat and this tart, but I don’t know if there is any substitute for cider where I live. Is cider pure apple juice?

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