I'd never had real mincemeat, or even a jarred simile of mincemeat, before. I think it's one of those specialties that sounds really gross to a kid, and really interesting to an adult foodie. Especially a British period piece obsessed one. The more Mary told me about her plan to make mincemeat with her half of our elk neck, the more I imagined what it could taste like…and thusly I worked myself into a tizzy over making mincemeat. I compared at least twenty recipes - ranging from the real deal, which uses suet (the fat from around kidneys) as a preservative, to misnomers that don't contain any meat at all.
Basically, traditional mincemeat is a mixture of meat, fat, spices, fresh and dried fruit. All doused and co-mingling in spirits, usually brandy. The fat, sugar, and alcohol are all types of preservatives that would keep mincemeat safe to eat for months, ready to fill pies at any moment. These days we have refrigerators and pressure canners, so I decided to forego the suet in my recipe (mainly due to recent a recent misadventure with kidney).
In my fantasy, mincemeat would taste like a kind of Christmas-spiced meaty marmalade. Citrusy and bright, with the meat playing more of a supporting role as a conveyer of umami or savoriness. And I wanted the texture to include chopped nuts. All that, plus brandy? Oh yeah, it could be interesting. Or really gross.
I made it up as I went along, using only the basic proportions of meat/liquid/fruit from Mary's family recipe. It took three days for me to produce the pies, and I'll admit that I nearly lost my enthusiasm (short attention span here) but I'm glad I went to completion. Because lo and behold, mincemeat is not gross. It's astoundingly good. You don't exactly perceive the meat in the finished preserves. Not as an individual entity or flavor. It's more like a dark and savory matrix encasing sweet, tart, juicy, chewy, crunchy morsels of fruit, nuts, and rind. Meaty marmalade! Each mouthful of a mincemeat pie was a different experience from the last. A sour cherry in this one, a hunk of candied ginger in that one, a snip of orange peel…and I was thrilled to find that the brandy came through the baking process.
I wish I were a better food writer at this moment, but suffice it to say that the Elk Neck Mincemeat Experiment of 2012 surpassed my expectations. It takes a time commitment to produce home made mincemeat pies, but they're so special that I can see why they were reserved mainly for Christmas in Old England. And why they were served at King's tables.
Frankie's On-The-Fly Elk Neck Mincemeat Recipe
2 pounds roast meat, minced
2 pounds apples, peeled and chopped
4 pounds of dried fruit. I used raisins, currants, cherries, cranberries, and candied ginger.
1/2 cup minced orange rind
1/4 cup minced lemon rind
2 1/2 pounds brown sugar
3 tablespoons cinnamon
1 tablespoon allspice
1 tablespoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cloves
About 2 quarts of liquid including:
juice of 4 lemons
2 cups squeezed fresh orange juice
1 1/2 quarts apple juice
1 cup elk stock (pan juices from roast)
1 1/2 pounds chopped walnuts
2 1/2 cups of brandy
Mix everything together except the walnuts and brandy. Cook uncovered on low heat for 3 to 4 hours, stirring occasionally. The mixture should become very thick.
Remove from heat and let cool a bit before stirring in walnuts and brandy. You don't want the alcohol to evaporate!
Fill jars and store in refrigerator for weeks and weeks. Or pressure can and store for many a fortnight.
5 pounds of neck from an elk my friend Mary and I purchased.
Equal parts kosher salt and sugar.
Curing the meat this way will draw out moisture and concentrate the flavor.
Overnight in the fridge.
Rinse it well the next day.
Pat it dry.
Pop it in a dutch oven.
Slow cook at 225 degrees for 8 hours or so.
I don't want it falling apart. I want it firm enough to mince.
I ate some of it, of course. Super beefy! I mean Elky.
The next day, I minced the elk meat.
Chopped some candied ginger.
Over 4 pounds of raisins, cherries, cranberries, currants and ginger.
I love any reason to use my apple corer-peeler-slicer.
2 pounds of chopped granny smith apples.
I want it marma-lady, so I'm going to add lotsa citrus.
I think I minced about two whole orange peels.
I juiced 4 lemons, and minced the rind of one of them.
Meat, fruit, sugar, spices, juice, elk stock.
The only pot this will all fit in is my big pressure canner.
I brought it to a simmer, then reduced to low heat and let it cook for over three hours. Stirring now and then.
I cooked it until it was very thick, because I'll be adding more liquid in the form of brandy.
1.5 pounds of walnuts into the processor.
About 3 seconds later.
One the mixture cooled a bit, I added the nuts and about 2.5 cups of brandy.
Oh yeah! It looks and tastes just like I dreamed it would!
I filled 12 half pint jars with this glorious concoction. I expect it will keep in the refrigerator for months.
On day three, I finally made pies.
I really need to make a cooking video showing how to make pie crust in a food processor. Soon...
I divided the dough into 10 balls.
This sauce pan lid is the perfect size for hand pies.
Add the mincemeat filling.
I ran some egg/milk wash around the edge.
Closed it up like a taco.
Pressed the edges together, flat and thin.
And then I learned how to shape empanada edges!
I brushed the pies with egg/milk, sprinkled sugar on top, and pierced with a fork.
Elk mincemeat pies, ready to bake.
I baked at 425 for about 30 minutes.
You should really wait until they're completely cool. If you can.