Homemade Mincemeat

When cooking is your thing and a crisis hits, what else is there to do but cook? That was how I saw things last week when my friend Shaila was admitted to the hospital with a seriously nasty case of meningitis. One of my first questions was, "What do you want me to make you?" Her answer was short and to the point - Mincemeat tarts.

I immediately remembered, with a pang of regret, that I had used up my last litre of mincemeat the week before in a very delicious apple-mincemeat crisp. Oh, it was good. The mincemeat was from St. Alban's church in Harrow where they make large quantities of it and sell it as a fund raiser. For the last couple of years, I have bought enough to get me through the winter. I thought I was safe to finish it off for the year. But circumstances change.

With no previous experience in making mincemeat, I felt I needed to consult with one of my favourite UK cookbook authors, Tamasin Day-Lewis. Her book, Good Tempered Food, is a book I turn to often for inspiration of a culinary nature.

Perhaps the hardest part about making mincemeat is gathering the wide variety of ingredients you need to have on hand. Once that is taken care of, it's simple. And it tastes and looks like real mincemeat! The interesting thing about making something like mincemeat in March is that it will only get better with age. By this Christmas (if it makes it that long), it will be in fine form and I will be one step ahead with my Christmas baking. You might even say that it makes sense to make mincemeat in March.

For my friend Shaila, I would willingly make mincemeat any month of the year. Now I know I can.

Homemade Mincemeat

2 cups each golden raisins, raisins, and currants
1 1/2 cups finely chopped blanched almonds
3 eating apples, cut into dolls'-sized dice
2 cups packed dark brown sugar
1 1/3 cups mixed peel, finely chopped
Grated zest and juice of 1 1/2 lemons, and the zest of an orange
1 tsp fresh nutmeg, finely grated
1/4 tsp ground cloves and cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground mace and ground ginger
6 ounces beef or vegetarian suet
4 Tbsp dark rum
1/2 cup Cognac or Apple Brandy

Simply mix all the ingredients together really well in a colossal bowl. Decant into sterilized jars, cover, and keep at room temperature. Turn the jars upside down every so often so the liquid permeates the mixture constantly.


A Good Book in the Bath

It was a cold, snowy Sunday afternoon, last Sunday in fact, and I found myself alone in the house with a good book. More than just a good book actually, it was the latest in the Isabel Dalhousie Series by Alexander McCall Smith. Real comfort food. As I wrote to a friend not long ago, reading that series is like wearing flannel in front of a blazing fire place, or something to that effect.

As I read, I came to a part where Isabel spends a day working in her niece's delicatessen (everything being set in Edinburgh, Scotland). She walks home, smelling of salamis and cheeses, tired but content. She heads straight upstairs and runs herself a hot bath.

This is where I took my cue. I jumped off the sofa with my book, heading for my own tub, and proceeded to run a hot, soapy bubble bath. I folded a fluffy white towel to use as a head rest and sank into the steamy tub, book in hand. This was bliss - true bliss. I barely missed a beat as I continued reading, the hot water still flowing out of the tap. Needs to be a bit hotter, I thought. I brought my foot out of the water to nudge the faucet to a higher temperature setting, not paying much attention to the task at hand. The heroine Isabel was enjoying an evening with her much younger, and incredibly handsome, fiance Jamie, when I misjudged my toe placement and kicked on the shower instead. I moved the library book out of the way JUST after the first cold drops hit my relaxed body.

***You will be happy to know that the book was none the worse for wear (and in fact has already been returned to the library).