Mince Pie Filling for Pies and Tarts


Mince Pie Filling for Pies and Tarts


I have no idea if anyone reading this will ever actually make homemade mince pie filling. But I wanted to record how over the years and through much trial and error I have learned to make it, just in case someone wishes to try. “Mincemeat,” as it used to be called (it began many centuries ago as a spiced mixture of meat and fruit for baking into pastries around Christmas) is now usually vegetarian. Mince pie is one of those traditional foods that some people love and some dislike. It should be clear that I love it.


Mince Pie Filling for Pies and Tarts

Even in the areas of the world where mince pies and tarts are traditional, like the British Isles, some British Commonwealth countries, and the New England of my childhood, people rarely actually made the filling from scratch. Usually they bought a commercial product. My mother preferred First National’s house brand “Finast” (both the venerable store chain and the Finast brand are gone), but Crosse and Blackwell was generally the most readily available mincemeat. The one my mother used came as a concentrate that she had to moisten and cook. She would add some chopped apple to stretch it -- and always stirred in some rum before baking the pies at Christmas.


The original mincemeat goes back to 13th century England, where Crusaders returning from the Holy Lands brought with them an acquired taste for richly flavored meat dishes cooked with fruit, spices and sweetened with honey. The earliest mincemeats for pie were based on actual chopped (“minced”) meat, particularly lamb, but vennison and beef were also used. Suet (beef fat) was also a component, even into the 20th century, well after the meat itself had largely disappeared from the mixture. In recent decades, the mixture has generally been purely vegetarian, combining apples or pears, raisins, currants (dried tiny grapes, “Raisins de Corinthe,” not true currants), orange peel, sugar, molasses, salt and spices. The traditional principal spices are cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.


As I make mince pie filling, I think the flavor and general texture are like what I enjoyed in my childhood. But my memory may have evolved the way my method has. I leave out the suet that was there back then, and replace it with butter or oil. (If this were to be vegan, sunflower or canola oil could be used.) My spice mixture includes allspice as well as the original three. Allspice is the only true spice that originated in the New World, and would not have been available to English cooks until sometime after Columbus got to the Americas. One final adaptation is using green tomatoes, as thrifty New Englanders did in their mincemeat to make use of late produce from the garden, harvested unripe before the frost arrived. In past trials I’ve also used local pears when available, as one of the fruits. I still use dried apples, which give a good consistency. When I couldn’t find them in the past I used fresh apples, peeled and chopped, and reduced the water a little.


Here’s my recipe as it has evolved. I doubt that I will be modifying it further. It makes about four quarts, and keeps well in the refrigerator for several weeks. It also can easily be stored frozen until needed for holiday baking. If you make it, I hope your pies and tarts turn out well!


3/4 pound dried apple rings (about 3-4 cups after chopping)

5 medium-large firm green tomatoes

1 medium-large orange (preferably organic)

1 pound dried currants

1 pound dried green grape raisins or regular raisins

1 pound black raisins

1 1/2 cups molasses

1 cup cider vinegar

1 1/2 cups water

4 tablespoons butter (or vegetable oil)

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup white sugar

2 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 1/2 teaspoons grated nutmeg

3/4 teaspoon ground cloves

3/4 teaspoon ground allspice


Using a food processor, chop the dried apples, part at a time, until the pieces are about 1/4-inch in size. Place in a heavy stainless steel or enamel pot. Cut out cores from the green tomatoes, cut the tomatoes in chunks and chop them coarsely in the food processor, part at a time. Add to the apples. Cut the orange, skin and all, into thick slices and remove any seeds. Chop the sliced orange finely in the food processor and add it to the pot.


Add the dried currants and raisins, molasses, vinegar, water, butter or oil, sugars, salt and spices. Bring to a boil, then over very low heat, cook slowly, stirring frequently and covering the pot between stirrings. If the mixture gets somewhat dry, add a little water. Cook the mixture for half an hour or more, until apple pieces are tender and moist.


Cool and store refrigerated, or frozen, for later baking. The flavors mellow and improve with aging, and are best after at least a few days storage.


Some cooks (like my mother did) stir in a little rum, bourbon, or (in the UK) whisky before baking their mince pie or tarts. The alcohol cooks off during baking, leaving behind only delightful flavor overtones.

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