Saturday, December 17, 2011

Sweet Saturday, Grandma Craig's Mince Meat

     First, this is a long post. I apologize in advance. If you don't care about my ramblings feel free to skip to the recipe, I understand.

     Second, if you have ever wanted a glimpse into how my mind works and why I am a fount of useless information, keep reading.

     Finally, this is my other "wouldn't be Christmas with out it" recipe. It is probably my favourite thing that Grandma Craig makes. Tough call stacked up against her doughnuts, they're legendary, but if I have to choose... It is an old family recipe, well at least old. I'm talking 1700's old. I'll have to talk with my grandmother to find out just where she got it. My other "wouldn't be Christmas with out it" recipe is here.

     After I started the blog and started harrassing asking my relatives for recipes, my aunt Janice kindly passed this one on. She had gotten this one and the doughnut recipe from my grandmother for me. As I looked it over, my first thought was,"This can't be right".

      Knowing my way around a kitchen, the proportions of the recipe seemed off and no peel. What? The first thing I did was ask my grandma about the 10 pounds of apples, that seemed really excessive. My apple butter recipe calls for 5 pounds, that's a lot and this was double. My grandmother's response was, "Apples are good". I forgot to ask about the peel and kept forgetting all year every time I saw her. I started reading.

     This is very typically me. New recipes usually involve research of some kind. Technique, ingredients, different preparations, uses and in this case history. I had no idea what I was getting into when I started looking into mincemeat.

      It has a long history. Combining meat with spices and fruit came back to the British Isles with the crusaders, 1200-1300's. Adding dried fruit was a way of stretching the meat, like adding breadcrumbs to meatloaf. The spices were a way of being able to eat meat that was starting to go "off". They masked the taste of spoilage, making it edible.

     With it's origins in the Holy land, it very quickly gained religious significance. Proper recipes had 13 ingredients, Christ and the 12 apostles and there were 3 spices, the gifts of the wise men. It was baked as an oblong, the creche or manger.

     In the late 1500's Protestant reformers outlawed mincemeat ( as well as Christmas) as idolatry and unsuitable for "good" Christians. Obviously that changed.

     The original meat would have depended on who you were. Beef and venison for royals and the nobility, mutton for the rest of us. The only peel available would have been citron, not to be confused with lemons. They're not the same (Who knew?). Lemons came to England much later and as ornamental and medicinal plants, not for eating. Citrons were know as early as the 1200's, not for juice as they have little but for preserved peel and pith.

     It was the Victorians who changed mincemeat into what many people know today, meatless, sweet, lots of peel, more fruit and flavoured with alcohol. Immigrants to North America would have used a more traditional recipe because of a lack of available ingredients.

     There you have it, my condensed version of the history of mince meat, which also led to a lot of reading about the history of citrus fruit in cooking. Interesting ( to me) but not exactly helpful when it came to deciphering Grandma's recipe. I turned to my Dad.

     As it happened, my aunt Jean, his sister not my mom's, had dropped mincemeat tarts off for him and he was raving about them. He said she had Grandma's recipe, call her. It was late and conversations by phone with my grandparents aren't always so easy.

     Jean to the rescue. Not exactly. She has her own recipe which she gave to my grandmother, a green tomato one. We had a nice long chat, she gave me her recipe, nothing like the one I had, we laughed about my dilemma and shared a bit about the of differences in the preparations. It all ended with a "What the hell, give it a try". So I did.

     Finally here is the recipe, as I got it.

Grandma Craig's Mincemeat
1 pound ground beef, cooked
1/2 pound suet, grated
1 tablespoon salt
1 cup molasses
2 cups brown sugar
2 cups vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoon allspice
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 pounds/ 4 cups raisins
2 pounds/ 4 cups currants
10 pound of apples, peeled, cored and sliced
3/4 cup of mixed peel-my addition 'cause I'm still sure it was missing

13 ingredients with 3 spices-perfect

Mix well, cook down simmering slowly. Seal in jars

     That's all the instructions it came with and the biggest challenge in trying to write down family recipes. When you've made it over and over, you know what you are doing, how it should feel or look so instructions or even measurements aren't so important. The recipe is more like a memory aid.

My Directions
Grate suet, coarse is fine, with hand grater or food processor.
In a medium frying pan, brown ground beef.
OR (and this is what I did)
In a large oven roaster, combine grated suet, ground beef, raw or cooked, and all other ingredients.
Mix well.
Cook in a 350 degree oven about 4 hours, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching.
I cooked mine two hours with the vents on the lid closed, mashed the apples with a potato masher when I took it out to stir, then returned it to the oven and cooked for an additional two hours with the vents open to reduce the liquid.
Cooking is done when mixture has little liquid left, almost a thick paste consistency.
Place in jars and process in pressure canner- ONLY safe way to can this, it has meat in it or jar and freeze. That's what I did.
Yield 7 500 ml/pint jars.

Everything but the apples
I didn't brown the ground beef like my grandmother's recipe said
Jean said not to (and it's easier that way)
I may next time just to see if I can taste a difference
Yes, I know I have to clean my stove top

Apples in, almost the full of my roaster

The end result, 7 pints of delicious

          You can do this on the stove top in a large stock pot, but it is so much simpler in the oven.(Much harder to scorch) It would probably make a good crock pot recipe if you had one large enough.
     Suet is the fat around the kidney's. I have no idea what makes it different from other beef fat. I had to go to four different butchers to get one who had any idea what I was talking about. Grate it partially frozen, it's easier that way. Not the most fun I have ever had.

     I have no idea about storage for this. I froze what I wasn't cooking with, pinwheel cookies to test the recipe. I can't stress enough that this has to be pressure canned to do it safely because of the meat and suet. For my elevation, 90 minutes at 10 pounds pressure but check with your manufacturer or local extension office for safe guidelines. I also don't know how long it will keep in the refrigerator. I always err on the side of caution, so no more than a week. I have seen recipes that call for this to sit and develop for as long as a month or two, I wouldn't be comfortable with that.

     This recipe is awesome, it turned out beautifully. Not too sweet, no sharp, overpowering citrus, a perfect blend of flavours. Grandma, you were so right, apples are good. I should have just trusted you wouldn't steer me wrong. I ate almost a pies worth with a spoon as I was jarring it. The pinwheel cookies I made were a hit but it also makes great pies and tarts. I'm looking forward to taking some home to get my relatives feedback. Dad, Jean, Grandma, you've been warned.

     There it is, probably way more than you ever wanted to know about one of my favourite Christmas treats. Enjoy.


  1. Wow. That's all I can say. I've never had this before, ever and only heard about it in passing. This was certainly very informative. I might have to find myself some mince meat somewhere and give it a shot!!! I'm always up for trying new things.
    And thanks for the follow. :)

  2. Hi Susi, This is a classic on the Craig side of my family. Love the stuff. Too bad you're not closer, I'd send you some cookies to try it.
    I've never really liked the stuff you can buy, but I've been spoiled by home made all my life.
    You're welcome and right back at you for the follow.

  3. Thanks Sherry, I'd love both, Stew and dumplings are my favourite winter comfort food.

  4. Reposted after removing Sherry's email address

    Hi Paul,
    I have a recipe for my great grandma craig's irish dumplings. Mary Elizabeth Craig (Maiden names included Ballance,Rathwell (Her uncle that she lived with after her parents mysterious deaths) and Coates. But she was married to William 1854. If you like, I would be happy to text both it and my photo of the other nights cooking of them to you. Sherry


Thanks for your comment, I hope you enjoyed your time in the "Kitchen".