Factoid: Mrs Beaton’s original mincemeat recipe did not contain cinnamon—it was all nutmeg. However, the recipe below is less about being historically accurate than about avoiding anaphylactic shock. I hope I don’t go on about it, but I do have serious food allergies—to cinnamon largely—and it is particularly hard on me at this time of year. Christmas can make me so resentful, which let’s face it, is not exactly the yuletide spirit. I adored tucking into Christmas Cake, the flaming Pud, Mince Pies and all the rest but each and every one of these dishes contains the deadly cinnamon. I even had to run out of John Lewis one time as the aircon was pumping around some cinnamon-inspired chemical Chrimbo.
I decided this year to stop with the envy and make a spice mix that would make me some mince pies. When trawling about looking for ideas and proportions I found this great link to the history of Mincedmeat from Mediaeval times to the modern day: http://historicalfoods.com/mincemeat-recipes-for-mince-pies
There is so much variation in ingredients and spices that it gave me a lot of confidence about doing my own thing. After faffing about a bit, I have now come up with a mix that really works well for seasonal sweet dishes, and could be used as a general substitute for ground mixed spice that normally contains cinnamon.
Hampshirecook’s Spice Mix:
- Equal quantities of ground dried Ginger, Nutmeg, Cloves, Coriander and Caraway–I grind these myself in a spice grinder as required.
- Half a Vanilla Pod or a few drops of Vanilla Extract.
I may be talking absolute rubbish here, but the vanilla seems to smooth out the heat of the spice flavours, particularly taking out that top-note acid ginger bite—it makes the flavours altogether more mellow. Cinnamon can have that quality too, so maybe the Vanilla is acting in a similar way.
So to the recipe. When I do substitutions, I try to avoid making a pastiche of something else. Who really wants to “taste the difference”? I would far rather a dish presents itself proudly in its own right. Accordingly, I decided to do a different style of mincemeat with slightly different ingredients and that would marry up more with the nutmeg: so it was Pears instead of Apples, Crystallized Stem Ginger instead of Mixed Candied Peel, and Cranberries, Dates and Apricots in the Currant/Sultana mix. I have to say this was an utter success. Hub was trying to eat it out of the preserving jar that I was trying to put it into. It is a lovely, lovely combination, which I would never have stumbled on or bothered about if it wasn’t for that darned cinnamon thing. And my house smells very nice too, bonus!
(Makes just over a litre by volume, fills one medium Tesco storage clip jar)
- 100g Unsalted Butter
- 200g Dark Brown Soft Sugar
- 200ml Cranberry Juice
- 3 Tsp Ground Mix Spice
- ½ a Vanilla Pod
- 250g Pears, peeled and diced small
- 200g Sultanas
- 200g Currants
- 100g Dried Cranberries
- 50g Crystalised Stem Ginger
- 100 g Chopped Dates
- 100g Chopped Dried Apricots
- 150 ml Vodka (or alcohol of your choice; Brandy is traditional but there is a cinnamon chemical in Brandy…yadah, yadah it just goes on, allergies are sooo BORING.)
(Takes about 30 minutes or so all in)
Combine the butter, sugar and all the spices in a large saucepan, heating gently while stirring until the butter is all melted and there are no big sugary lumps left. Add in the cranberry juice and stir, then add in the pears and the rest of the dry ingredients along with the vanilla pod. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer until the pear is softened (15 minutes or so). Fish out the vanilla pod (it will be hot!), scrape out any remaining seeds and put the seeds back in the pan and stir round. Allow the mixture to cool a little before adding in the vodka as you do not want the alcohol to boil off. Spoon into sterilised jars and seal when it is cooled enough to handle. Do this out of sight of your family or there will be none left. This should at least keep for at least one month in the fridge, and it is possible to extend the shelf life to about six months if you double-up the alcohol.
Am off to do the mince pies now. I’m too late to do a cake, but Christmas pud could well be home-made this year!
[PS If you are interested in following the historic link above, I would be quick as all the amazing historic recipes on that site are transferring over to RecipeWISE in January and most will then be behind a paywall. Such a shame, but I dont blame them, historic recipes are not a natural draw for advertising-based business models!]