My rambling wasn't completely unreasonable. Mincemeat, after all, is a mishmash of all sorts of things; it stands to reason that thinking about mincemeat would send my mind off in many directions.
We have mincemeat pie every Thanksgiving at our house. Sometimes it's stretched a bit, or even a lot, with sliced apples, or sliced or diced quince. I do like the idea--and taste--of quince. Its perfume always seems medieval to me, so is the perfect match for as old a recipe as mincemeat. And besides, isn't it fun to say 'quince mince'? It's always served warm, with a healthy spoonful of hard sauce (also quite nice on pumpkin pie).
But I've never used store-bought mincemeat, even doctored. And that's because the recipe I have, given to me by my sister, makes so much that I have only made it three or four times in 23 years. It requires a bit of foresight, as you need to make some candied peel, and scare up some suet. But once done, it sits happily in the basement, waiting the next holiday.
1 lb. finely chopped suet
1 lb. currants
1 lb. chopped raisins
1 lb. chopped apples
2 cups sugar
1/2 lb. sultanas (or muscat raisins)
4 oz. chopped, mixed candied peel (last time I only used candied orange peel)
juice and rind of 1 lemon
juice and rind of 1 orange
1/2 cup brandy
1/4 cup rum
1 teaspoon each cinnamon, nutmeg, and mace
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
Combine in a tightly closed jar and store at least a week or two--it will keep in a cool place several years.
Yield: 4-5 pounds
Like the mincemeat, candied peel will keep for a long time. It's well worth making a batch for the mincemeat. Then you'll have plenty through the holidays. You can dip them in chocolate, or just serve a couple alongside an espresso. Having a container of candied orange peel in the refrigerator makes you feel rich.
Candied Orange (or Lemon) Peel
from Lindsey Shere's Chez Panisse Desserts
4 oranges, or 6 lemons or tangerines
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar (or 2 Tablespoons corn syrup)
About a cup of sugar for sprinkling the peel
Remove peel from the fruit in quarter sections. (I do this this by cutting just through the peel. If you're lucky, you can then pull off the peel in 4 neat sections). Put in a saucepan, and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and simmer until the pith starts to look translucent. Let stand in the hot water for about 15 minutes, and drain.
Make a syrup of the sugar, water, and cream of tartar (or corn syrup).
Sprinkle a layer of sugar onto a plate or cookie sheet, and set aside.
With a spoon, scrape off and discard the white pith as completely as possible. Cut the peel into thin strips, and add to the syrup. Cook slowly until the peel is translucent. Then turn up the heat and cook quickly until the syrup reaches 230º on a candy thermometer.
Drain the peel in a strainer and quickly put drained peel onto the plate of sugar. Sprinkle more sugar to cover, then toss the peel with a fork.
Store the peel in sugar in a container in the refrigerator.
Roll out your pie crust (the recipe I use is in this post) and fit into a pie pan, and chill. I also cut a bunch of strips of pie dough to use for a lattice top (seems right with mince) or some shapes to set on top (if the Thanksgiving day rush is getting to you). If you're making straight mince pie, you will want somewhere around 2 cups of filling (it's very rich). I prefer to cut it with apples, quince, or a mix of the two. Some years I make essentially an apple pie with a little bit of mincemeat in it; more often, I use about 1-1/2 cups mincemeat, and some sliced or diced apples and quince--enough to slightly heap in the pie plate.
Bake at 400º for about 25 minutes, then turn down the heat to 375º, and bake about 10 minutes longer. The apples should be tender by then, and the crust golden. Serve warm, with:
from Lindsey Shere's Chez Panisse Desserts
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons cognac, brandy or bourbon
Beat softened butter until it is fluffy, and then gradually beat in powdered sugar. Add the liquor, and beat until very fluffy. Chill until firm. (You can make this ahead and keep in the freezer--just be sure your husband doesn't know it's there, or he might eat it as if it's ice cream).