Mincemeat cheesecakes

I’m getting in the Christmas cooking mood and yesterday I was looking at some old recipes for mincemeat; one was fairly conventional, mixed dried fruits, suet and rum, the other had chopped dates and figs as well as the usual trio of currants, sultanas and raisins. They both included ratafia essence which isn’t something you ever see these days – maybe I could start a new food trend, ratafia revival?!

You may know rafafia as a sort of liqueur but I think the flavouring in this ninety year-old recipe is different.  There are several different things ratafia could be:

  • a sweet alcoholic drink such as a fortified wine
  • a fruit-based, spicy or herby  liqueur or a cordial, which might have ingredients such as lemon zest, aromatic herbs or  Christmassy spices
  •  as above but with the flavour of bitter almonds, either from actual almonds, or from the kernels of fruit such as  cherries, plums, peaches, apricots (their kernels do contain a poison in minute quantities so I guess you have to be careful with home-made ratafia!) This is the flavour of crunchy ratafia biscuits.
  • ratafia can also be brandy and grape juice which is the French style of making it
  • in Italy in the wine growing areas of Abruzzo it’s just made with cherries – which sounds delicious!

Back to the mincemeat… In this same recipe book is a mincemeat cheesecake, which surprised me because I thought it was a modern invention, or at least a modern favourite, I didn’t realise it was over a hundred years old! I had never even heard of it until I went to Manchester as a student and a local delicatessen sold it.

The cheesecake in this recipe is not much like what we think of these days, it sounds tasty all the same!

Mincemeat cheesecake

  • 2 oz butter
  • 2 oz brown sugar
  • 1 oz flour
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 oz ground rice
  • 1 oz ground almonds
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • short or flaky pastry
  • mincemeat
  1. roll out pastry and cut out to line small cake or bun tins
  2. cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy
  3. add the egg and continue to beat
  4. add the flour, ground rice and cinnamon and mix well
  5. finally add the almonds
  6. spoon mincemeat into each pastry case
  7. cover with the mixture
  8. bake for about twenty minutes, 180°C, 360°F, gas mark 4, or until soft and cooked (I would bake the pastry blind first)



Mincemeat and mincemeat

I have in my cupboard a jar of mincemeat, which may be last year’s or may be the year before… thinking about it, it might even be the year before that! It is just one single jar, and since I am so fond of mince pies I might have to make some more… and I have been looking at my old cookery book, the recipes probably dating from the 1920’s if not before, and I have come across two separate lists of ingredients…

Mincemeat I

  • ½ lb cooking apples, peeled, cored, chopped
  • ½ beef suet (you can use vegetarian suet or butter)
  • zest and juice ¼ lemon (how is that going to make its presence felt? I’d use at least ½ a lemon, or a whole one)
  • ½ sugar
  • 2 oz flaked or nibbed almonds
  • 3 oz candied orange peel
  • 2 oz candied citron (lemon) peel
  • ½ lb each of  raisins, currants, sultanas
  • grated nutmeg
  • ratafia essence
  • rum

Mincemeat II

  • ¾ stoned, chopped dates
  • 1 lb chopped figs (stalks cut off)
  • ½ candied peel
  • 1½ lbs currants
  • 1 lb peeled and cored apples
  • 1 lb beef suet (you can use vegetarian suet or butter)
  • ½ lb sugar
  • ¼ lb Brazil nuts, chopped
  • ½ tsp ground ginger (I would add much more!!)
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/3 bottle of ratafia flavouring
  • 1/3 gill of rum  (I can’t work out how much this is in fluid ounces… maybe 2? Be generous!)

The instructions are the same for both recipes – mix all the ingredients very well together, pack into jars, make airtight… it doesn’t give any instruction as to how long to leave the mincemeat, at least a week I would guess, or as long as possible!


Enough time to make an Xmas pud? With figs and dates?

When my husband and I were at work, and we had two children to look after and all their activities (rugby, swimming, karate) and parents and relatives to visit regularly (four-hour journey each way) and of course housework and gardening to do, I still managed to be well-prepared for Christmas with puddings, cake and mincemeat all made, plus other treats such as chocolate logs and mincepies (there was one memorable time when staying at my dad’s house, I prepared three different bowls of mixture for pud, pies and cake – fruit marinating etc… and when we got them home I couldn’t member which was which… I think I guessed correctly with the cake but might have muddled the pies and pud – they all tasted great anyway!) … anyway this year I am way behind… luckily I have mincemeat left from last year so I’ll make some mince pies soon.

I think there is only me who really likes Christmas pudding – my husband and son don’t mind it, but my daughter really dislikes it – even when I made a ‘white’ one with berries and red fruit and white choc chips she really didn’t enjoy it.

So since it’s mainly for me maybe I shall try a different style pud (yes I know it should have been made weeks if not months ago!) and I have found this ninety year-old recipe:

Christmas pudding
(made with figs and dates)

This recipe will make 3 large or four medium puds, so adjust quantities if necessary

  • 1½ lbs stoned and chopped dates
  • 1 lb figs, stalks removed and fruit chopped
  • ½ lb mixed peel
  • 1½ lbs seeded raisins
  • 2 lbs chopped suet (you could use vegetable suet or even butter)
  • ½ lb breadcrumbs
  • ¾ lb flour ( might use wholemeal)
  • ½ lb sugar (it doesn’t specify but I will use Demerara)
  • 2 oz ground almonds
  • 4 oz chopped walnuts
  • 1 large carrot, scraped and grated
  • zest and juice of a large orange and lemon
  • 2 tsp nutmeg (freshly ground is best, and 1 whole nutmeg = 1 tsp)
  • ½ tsp ground ginger (I like ginger so I would add more)
  • 8 eggs beaten
  • 1 lb black treacle (warmed very slightly)
  • 7 fl oz milk
  • 3 fl oz rum (or brandy if you prefer, or miss it out and add more liquid)
  • ratafia flavouring (I actually do have some! This will be the first time I have used it!)
  1. mix the suet/fat, flour and breadcrumbs, spices, almonds and sugar
  2. add carrot, walnuts, and zest
  3. stir in the eggs, treacle, fruit juice and milk and  beat well
  4. add the rum and ratafia
  5. put into well buttered basins, cover with buttered paper and floured pudding cloth (or tinfoil) and steam for about six hours
  6. the puds can be made in advance and stored with new wrapping and then reheated by steaming for an hour or so – they can be heated in the microwave but I’m not sure of timings!

‘Tis the season to make… Mince Meat

‘Tis the season to be jolly, and if you haven’t done, then ’tis the season to make…

Mince Meat (no meat!!)

  • 10 oz raisins
  • 1 lb currants
  • 3-4 fl oz orange juice or cold tea – or add a little rum/whisky/brandy etc
  • zest of 1 lemon, juice of ½ (if you’ve no lemons use an orange)
  • 12 oz  shredded suet – vegetarian or not, or butter (which gives a very rich flavour)
  • 10 oz dark brown sugar
  • 3 oz chopped mixed peel (optional – miss it out if you don’t like it and extra other fruit)
  • plenty of mixed spice (or mixed spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, allspice, or go crazy and have cardamom, cumin, coriander!!)
  • 1 large cooking apple, peeled and grated
  1. soak the dried fruit in the liquid for at least an hour until they are nice and plump (you can actually use any dried fruit you like,  for example chopped prunes, apricots etc – but currants really do give a very fine flavour)
  2. drain the fruit but keep the liquor
  3. mix the fruit, sugar, spice and suet together, stir very well
  4. pour in the liquor and stir really well
  5. put into clean jars and push right down to the bottom so there are no air bubbles
  6. cover the jars and leave in a cool dark place for at least two weeks
  7. make mince pies!!!
  8. This will keep in the fridge for up to 6 months. (actually much longer, especially if you seal the top with melted butter; if it’s dried out, revive it worth some more liquid, juice/tea/spirits)

Delia Smith does this to her mincemeat – it works well and I think gives a better texture and adds to the longevity:

After that (the overnight soak)  pre-heat the oven to gas mark ¼, 225°F (110°C). Cover the bowl loosely with foil and place it in the oven for 3 hours, then remove the bowl from the oven. Don’t worry about the appearance of the mincemeat, which will look positively swimming in fat. This is how it should look.

When it’s been in the oven, bottle up and seal in the usual way.


Mincemeat fritters

Over the last couple of days I’ve been thinking about mincemeat – in a Christmassy mood! Although actually it’s a bit late to actually make mincemeat as it needs to mature, I’m sure if you did it would still taste lovely and fresh and delicious in your mincepies. I’ve been looking at recipes from Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery, published in 1845, one a very traditional receipt using either ox-tongue or roasted sirloin, the other with an optional addition of meat to what we would think of as a ‘normal’ recipe of dried fruit and brandy.

Now here is something I’ve never heard of but which sounds absolutely yummy, I can just imagine them dredged in icing sugar with a sprig of holly… mincemeat fritters!

With half a pound of mincemeat, mix two ounces of fine breadcrumbs (or a tablespoonful of flour), two eggs well beaten, and the strained juice of half a small lemon. Mix these well, and drop the fritters with a dessertspooninto plenty of very pure lard or fresh butter; fry them for seven to eight minutes, drain them on a napkin or on white blotting paper, and send them very hot to the table: they should be quite small.

Don’t they sound quite scrumptious? here’s a shorthand recipe:

  • ½ lb mincemeat
  • 2 oz fine breadcrumbs or 1 tbsp flour
  • 2 eggs well beaten
  • juice of half a lemon
  1. mix all the ingredients very well
  2. drop dessertspoons into hot oil/lard/butter and deep fry for 7-8 minutes
  3. eat straight away – maybe with ice cream/cream/clotted cream

Superlative mincemeat – prepared with great nicety

I know it’s a little late to be making your own mincemeat – I’m sure it would be perfectly delicious but it really needs time to mature. However, having shared a receipt from Eliza Acton not quite to modern taste – mincemeat made with actual meat (unsalted ox-tongue or the inside of a roast sirloin which would ‘answer quite as well as the tongue‘) here is Eliza’s other recipe for ‘superlative mincemeat‘:

take four large lemons, with their weight of golden pippins pared and cored, of jar-raisins, currants, candied citron and orange-rind and the finest suet, and a fourth part more of pounded sugar. Boil the lemons tender, chop them small, but be careful first to extract the pips; add them to the other ingredients, after all have been prepared with great nicety, and mix the whole well with from three to four glasses of good brandy. We think that the weight of one lemon in meat improves the mixture; pr, in lieu of it, a small quantity of macaroons added just before it is baked.

Eliza omits to give any ‘baking’ instructions – unless she means before the mincemeat is baked in mincepies… not very clear, Eliza!

A large lemon seems to weigh 4-5 ounces, so here are the ingredients again:

  • 4 large lemons, unwaxed and washed
  • 1 lb pared, cored and presumably chopped golden pippin or any other dessert apple
  • 1 lb raisins
  • 1 lb currants
  • 1 lb candied peel – orange and lemon (presumably not 1 lb of each)
  • 1 lb suet
  • 4 oz sugar
  • 3-4 glasses of good brandy – a wineglass as a cooking measure seems to be 2 fl oz,  so this would be 6-8 fl oz of brandy
  • 4 oz meat (optional) no mention of whether it should be cooked or uncooked, but judging by the previous receipt it should be cooked – or a small quantity of crushed macaroons added before baking

I’m not sure I fancy this, Eliza

Tastes in food have changed over the centuries, I know, but many of Eliza Acton’s recipes sound and do taste delicious! her book, ‘Modern Cookery’ was published in 1845, a decade or so before the more famous Mrs Beeton’s collection (many of which were Eliza’s!) However, sometimes the old recipes just seem too strange for our modern way of thinking – but who knows, they could be the next great food fashion!

Most people know that Christmas mincemeat is called that because originally it did contain meat, the last remnant is the suet among the ingredients. Here is Eliza’s recipe, her very own receipt not one given by someone else:

To one pound of unsalted ox-tongue, boiled tender and cut free from the rind, add two pounds of fine stoned raisins, two of beef kidney suet, two pounds and a half of currants well cleaned and dried, two and a half of fine Lisbon sugar, from half a pound of candied peel according to taste, the grated rinds of two large lemons, and two more boiled quite tender, and chopped up entirely, with the exception of the pips, two small nutmegs, half an ounce of salt, a large teaspoonful of pounded mace, rather more of ginger in powder, half a pint of brandy, and as much good Madeira. Mince these ingredients separately, and mix the others all well before the brandy and wine are added; press the whole into a jar or jars, and keep it closely covered. It should be stored for a few days before it is used, and will remain good for many weeks.Some persons like a slight flavouring of cloves in addition to other spices; others add juice of two or three lemons, and a larger quantity of brandy. The inside of a tender and well roasted sirloin of beef will answer quite as well as the tongue.

I know it’s late for Christmas, but if you do fancy having a go – here is the recipe in a more convenient form:

  •  1 lb unsalted ox-tongue, boiled tender and cut free from the rind (or 1 lb tender, well-roasted sirloin – just the inside meat) minced
  • 2 lbs fine stoned raisins
  • 2 lbs suet
  • 2½ lbs currants
  • 2½ lbs fine Lisbon sugar
  • ½ lb candied peel or more according to taste
  • zest of 2 large lemons
  • juice of 2 large lemons (optional)
  • 2 whole lemons (pips removed) boiled quite tender, and chopped up entirely
  • 5 tsp ground nutmeg or 2 whole nutmegs ground
  • ½ tsp ground cloves (optional)
  • ½ oz salt
  • 1 heaped tsp ground mace
  • 2 heaped tsp ground ginger
  • at least ½ pint brandy, and as much good Madeira.
  1. chop or mince or lightly blitz the dried fruit so it is still in recognisable pieces not a mash (I might leave the currants whole)
  2. mix all the meat, fruit and spices really well together
  3. add the liquids and mix well again
  4. put into jars – Eliza says seal well, I would pour melted butter over the top to make a seal before closing the jars in the normal way

One day I might have a go, reducing the quantities by a quarter just to see what it tastes like… I’m sure no-one but me and my son would even try it!