Few of us eat mince pie any time except Christmas, so it’s not something the home baker has much practice with. The inclination is to buy your pie, or at least the filling, ready made. But, as with many holiday dishes, mince pie is simpler to make from scratch than you might think. There aren’t any secret ingredients . . . well . . .
There’s a reason they call it minceMEAT — the traditional recipe calls for “chopped lean beef or chopped ox heart”. Oh, and suet. That’s from The Joy of Cooking, which also says you can just use a can of mincemeat filling. Well, you can bet there’s no chopped beef, or even ox heart, in today’s ready made mincemeat filling, or it would cost even more than it does.
One Christmas I found myself in a country where there was no ready made mincemeat filling, with or without ox heart, to be found. Turning again to The Joy of Cooking, I found a recipe for Mock Mince Pie which turned out to have that real Christmas taste. To sum it up quickly, you use a cup and a half of raisins, four chopped apples, a half teaspoon each of cinnamon and cloves (these are very important), three quarters of a cup of sugar, some orange rind and juice, cider, and, for some reason, cracker crumbs, though I think I skipped those. (American-style crackers were unknown there too.) You cook this slowly on top of the stove till it, well, seems like pie filling, then bake it in whatever crust you want.
If you’ve got a real crowd coming, you may want to check out this U.S. Marine Corps recipe for mince pie — it makes over 100 servings.Seriously, though,this recipe shows what a high proportion of apples you can use and still get the authentic mince taste — the apples really take on the flavor of the spices.
Whatever dried, canned, or fresh fruit you end up using, remember the essence of mince pie is in the seasonings — cinnamon, cloves, orange, and oh yes, a couple of spoonfuls of something alcoholic stirred in. Enjoy Christmas, your holiday dinner, and most of all, dessert.