Now is the time to make mincemeat, that lovely mixture of dried fruit, spices, sugar, rum and suet, the vital ingredient for mincepies. I have a particular weakness for mincepies, and as well as making my own we usually have a little competition, buying every different mincepie we can find from bakers and supermarkets, and tasting them in cafés and teashops – in order to find the best, of course, not just because we like them! I always make my own, with my own mincemeat… the trouble is we don’t eat as many as we used to and have jars of mincemeat from the last two or three years. It keeps perfectly because of the sugar and alcohol, and if it goes a little dry, just add more rum – or brandy if you prefer, or anything else you like!
Mincemeat is really traditional, and gets it name as most people know because originally there was meat in the mixture; it was a favourite to cook meat and fruit together – just as it still is in North Africa and the Middle East today. However if you see an article or title including the words ‘Operation Mincemeat’ it is nothing at all to do with pie filling. This was the code name for an operation during the war in 1943 which was dramatised in a film ‘The Man Who Never Was’.
It was an exercise in disinformation; a body was found floating off the coast of Spain, supposedly a British soldier who carried a briefcase chained to his wrist containing false papers purporting to show that the Allies were planning to invade Greece from North Africa. The body was given every sort of collateral documentation to make him seem like a real soldier, but in fact he was an anonymous tramp. The body was found, the information passed to a German spy and up the chain of command and the enemy believed British and Allied forces were targeting Greece, not in fact Sicily. Operation Mincemeat was successful and many servicemen’s lives were saved.
This recipe for mincemeat is prewar, from the 1936 edition of the National Mark Calendar of Cooking:
- ½ lb apples
- 1 grated carrot (optional)
- ½ lb suet (vegetarian if you prefer, or butter)
- 4 oz mixed peel
- 8 pa currants
- 8 oz raisins
- 8 oz sultanas
- 4 oz glacé cherries (optional)
- 1 lb demerara sugar
- 4 oz almonds, chopped
- brandy or raisin wine (or rum – or whatever you prefer!)
- mix all the ingredients in a large bowl with enough liquid and cover leave to stand for one day or overnight
- bottle and store in a dark place until ready to use
- OR mix all the ingredients in a large ovenproof bowl with enough liquid and cover leave to stand for one day or overnight. Pre-heat oven to gas mark ¼, 225°F, 120°C, cover the bowl loosely with foil and leave in the oven for 3 hours. leave to cool,, stir, add extra liquid if necessary, and bottle
I always follow the second method,whichever recipe or ingredients I use; the mincemeat seems to be more plumtious!