Traditional Mincemeat

To kick off the Christmas theme for December, I thought I would give you a couple of mincemeat recipes – one sixteenth and one nineteenth century. They cenrtainly different from the Robinson’s jarred stuff my Mum used when I was a child. Robinson’s were a strange brand of preserves with a ‘Golly’ mascot that was still being used in the 2000s. It’s a long story of how this was allowed that requires a whole entry to itself I think…

Modern day mincemeat is a preserve of sugar, dried fruits, nuts and suet used to fill mince pies. It is certainly in no way meaty. In fact, I think vegetarian suet used these days. The further back you travel in time however, the more meaty the recipes become. Originally, the idea was to make a pie filled with minced meat, heavily flavoured with spices and dried fruits. There were two main reasons for this; first it allowed one to show off about how much spice one could afford; and second, the sweet aromatics could overpower any meat that was past its prime. To show you what I mean, here’s how ‘to bake the humbles of a deer’ from The Good Housewife’s Jewel by Thomas Dawson from 1598 (the humbles are the innards by the way):

Mince them very small and season them with salt and pepper, cinnamon and ginger, and sugar if you will, and cloves, mace, dates, and currants and, if you will, mince almonds, and put unto them. When it is baked you must put in fine fat, and sugar, cinnamon and ginger and let it boil. When it is minced put them together.

The last sentence is puzzling, but it seems to be a recipe that is possible to do these days, though in sixteenth century cook books there are never quantities mentioned.

The same cannot be said for the next recipe from Mrs Isabella Beeton. Mrs Beeton was the first recipe writer to have the great idea of listing the ingredients and the quantities before the recipe. In her magnum opus of 1888, Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, she included  recipes for a regular one, an American one and an ‘excellent’ one. I have never tried the latter two recipes, but the regular one makes the best mince pies I have ever eaten in my life, so if you are thing of making your own mincemeat I urge you to give this one a go. It does contain beef which shouldn’t put you off as you can’t taste it, but it does give it amazing delicious qualities. The quanitities Mrs Beeton gives are huge, so it is best to half or even quarter them. Here they are:

2 lbs raisins

3 lbs currants

1 1/2 lbs of lean beeef such as rump

3 lbs of suet – fresh is best, put the packet stuff is also good

2 pounds of soft dark brown sugar

6 oz mixed candied citrus peel (cintron, lemon, orange &c)

1 nutmeg, grated

2 lbs of tart apples such as Cox’s Orange pippins, peeled, cored and grated

the zest of 2 lemons and the juice of one

1/2 pint of brandy

Mince the beef and suet (or get your butcher to do it).

Then, mix all the remaining ingredients together well and pot into sterilised jars, making sure you push it down well to exclude any trapped air bubbles. Leave for at least 2 weeks before you use it. In a couple of weeks, I’ll give you recipe to make the perfect mince pie

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Filed under food, history, Nineteenth Century, Recipes, Sixteenth Century, Teatime, The Victorians

25 responses to “Traditional Mincemeat

  1. OK, I am going to make this, maybe with a tad more brandy, in the cook, in the mince, who knows! A whole nutmeg is a daunting quantity! After all the spices listed in the other recipes, I’m really surprised this one has only nutmeg. Sure???


  2. buttery77

    yes, just the one spice is needed, though you could add different ones I suppose, but I followed this one and the mincemeat was excellent. It’s mainly about the fruit and booze really.

    P.S. If you are ordering suet order extra for the Christmas pudding. Sorry for not having a recipe though. If I were to try one it would be Delia Smith’s… you might want to order a pudding basin or two as well. It’s all on Amazon


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  4. I love mincemeat, but use a modern version without meat or suet.


    • buttery77

      All forms of mincemeat are very good in my opinion. I have another recipe that I use that doesn’t contain meat, though I always add suet. Can you tell that there is no fat, or does it actually not make any difference?


  5. Yo Butterballs. I want mince pies like the kind of mince pies I’ve always eaten in the UK (the good deep-filled stuff). Do you know if the mincemeat they sell in shops here is any good? If not, could you recommend a recipe for normal-tasting mince pies? I feel the need to educate/treat my colleagues. Hope all is super!


  6. buttery77

    I have never tried the mincemeat here, though I do know it is filled with corn syrup, which can’t be good. You can probably order some Robertson’s off of – they’re pretty good with stuff like that.
    Otherwise, you’ll have to make it yourself. My other blog has another recipe which also good:
    if i were to make some, i would go the Mrs Beeton every time. If you need to change ingredients slightly it’ll be no big deal. Suet is hard to get hold of fresh or Atora. You could probs miss it out and they would be perfectly nice I am sure


  7. I’ve found that with my friends, not telling them they’re eating mincemeat is the key. I made homemade mincemeat tarts a couple of years ago for a Twelfth Night party and people gobbled them up. When they asked what it was and I told them “mincemeat,” one of my husband’s co-workers replied, “I thought that stuff was supposed to be nasty.”

    Where do you get your suet? I’m in Kansas and I haven’t been able to find any that didn’t have to be rendered first. Not that I couldn’t manage that, I suppose, but it seems rather daunting!


    • buttery77

      You’ve two options wit the suet: either but the packet stuff called Atora. You csan get on Amazon these days I think – it’s quite good, though not as good as fresh. I ordered some suet from the beef farmer at my local farmers’ market. Suet should never be rendered – it’s the chopped fat from around the kidneys. I’ve spoken to others that think it needs to be rendered… hope that’s some help….


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  10. Stephanie Macleod

    My son and I are planning to make the traditional English mincemeat because I’m allergic to cloves and he’s interested in the traditional. He lives in England and I’m in Canada so I will be making the mincemeat before he arrives for Christmas. We’re wondering how long one can store the mincemeat in the sterilized jar…will the brandy keep everything from going off, or should it be refrigerated at some point, and if so which point. I don’t have the ability to sterilize everything once it is in the jar.


    • Hi Stephanie – the mincemeat will be preserved because of the brandy, as you say. You can store it in the fridge r somewhere cool once opened. I have used mincemeat that’s been 2 years old and it has been perfectly fine.





  12. Lynn

    Can you eat raw mincemeat?


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  14. Stella

    I love this recipe! Am just wondering do I store in pantry or fridge? Thanks


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