All About Mincemeat

As a British expat who will not be coming home for Christmas this year, I am faced with a sad lack of mince pie. These rich, buttery, hand-held cakes are a seasonal treat par excellence, deliciously hot from the oven, but almost as well snatched from the box in the cupboard and enjoyed after at night with a hot Toddy. At home, they are everywhere at this time of year. In North America, they are much more difficult to find.

The best-minced meat pies are made from scratch, but the second best secret Option is to make a batch of pastries and have a huge jar of store-bought minced meat in the refrigerator. Ground bulk is not difficult to prepare, but it has a lot of ingredients, which can make it expensive to prepare in small quantities, and it takes at least a day of planning in advance to let the ingredients rest. Buying in stores is an acceptable shortcut during the busy holiday season.

If you are not familiar with minced meat pies or minced meat, there are two important points that need to be addressed. First: minced meat is not really meat. Secondly: it is not necessarily vegetarian.

The history of minced meat is connected with the history of sugar and spices. We think of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg as heat up winter spices, but their association with the season can have pragmatic roots. These ingredients arrived in the British Isles with the Crusaders in the 12th century and became increasingly available with the opening of trade routes from the 15th century. The antimicrobial properties of the spices provided a useful way to preserve the meat during the winter and may also have obscured the flavor of the old meat.

The first recipes for minced meat pies include all meats – often bulk tongue – minced with citrus peels, plonk fruits, sugar and spices, and bulk fat (tallow) to ensure a brilliant filling. I tried a real meat-based mince pie and it was a rich and satisfying experience, but I doubtful that the Version that my local butcher made was sweeter than the original recipe.

The cookbooks of the XIX century offered meat and meatless recipes for minced meat, and therefore minced meat pies turned from a main course into a Dessert. Today, the standard expectation is that minced meat is meatless — but again, it is not necessarily vegetarian, as it may still contain tallow. If you are buying minced meat in stores this winter, check the ingredients. If you are targeting vegetarians, make double sure that there are no animal products.

You will probably find tallow in British minced meat brands, but at least one North American minced meat brand that I reviewed contained bulk as an ingredient, in an obvious concession to literal-mindedness. Even British minced meat is often made today with vegetable fat based on vegetable oils and rice flour. This is good news for vegetarians, but disappointing for me, because I believe that tallow enriches minced meat like nothing else.

If you are wondering what should be on the label when buying high-quality minced meat, the List goes on. The vine and the apple provide a lot of body. Candied fruits are also important-usually lemon and orange peels, but sometimes cherries. Ginger and prunes are also welcome additions.

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