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Up until just recently, I had always thought the idea of mincemeat pie sounded pretty unappetizing. I had never actually tried it until this year, but it just didn’t sound like something I would ever want to eat. I think part of my aversion to it was the fact that I had no idea what was actually in it. And those jars of processed mystery mincemeat filling that appear on the grocery store shelves around the holiday season have always looked pretty scary to me!
I had always wondered, though, what exactly was in mincemeat pie filling and if there was actually any real meat in an old-fashioned mincemeat pie recipe. Well, I found my answer by looking through old cookbooks – a great source for any questions about what people used to eat and how they prepared their food. I found out that mincemeat pie really did have meat in it along with fruit and spices.
After seeing old-fashioned mincemeat pie recipes, I was curious to see what they would taste like, so I decided to go ahead and make one myself.
This is the original recipe that I found in American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, which was the first American cookbook. (The edition of the cookbook I looked at when I was searching for this recipe was the 1798 edition, but you can find the same recipe in the reprinted version of the 1796 edition, too.)
“Four pound boiled beef, chopped fine, and salted; six pound of raw apple chopped also, one pound beef suet, one quart of wine or rich sweet cider, one ounce mace, and cinnamon, a nutmeg, two pounds raisins, bake in paste No. 3 three-fourths of an hour.”American Cookery by Amelia Simmons
This recipe makes a massive amount of mincemeat filling, so I reduced it quite a bit.
A side-note to the recipe says “As people differ in their tastes, they may alter to their wishes.” I decided to take this suggestion and make a couple alterations. Since I had seen other mincemeat pie recipes that used both raisins and currants, and since I had some currants left over from Christmas baking, I used a mix of currants and raisins. Currants and raisins have a similar taste, so it won’t change the recipe very much if you use one or the other.
I also added some candied citron because I wanted to use it up and I had seen some old mincemeat recipes that included it. The citron isn’t necessary, but I think it adds a nice lemony flavor that goes well with the fruit and the spices. I made my own candied citron, just like I did for my traditional 19th century fruitcake recipe. One thing that’s very common with 19th century holiday and special occasion recipes is the use of candied citron or other citrus peels along with raisins and/or currants and lots of spices. If you look through any old cookbooks you’ll see those ingredients mentioned a lot! There is a very similar flavor profile in old-fashioned plum pudding, too.
This is the version of the recipe that I used for my mincemeat pie:
(Update 9/27/16) I just made this recipe again so I could take some new pictures of it in better lighting, and I made a couple of slight adaptations to the recipe. First, I added in a little bit of nutmeg because I had forgotten to mention that back when I first posted this recipe, and I also changed the amount of cider to 3/4 cup. 1 full cup seemed like a bit too much liquid, so reducing it down a little was just about right. I also decided to try using coconut oil as a substitute for suet, and that seemed to work well. I have more information on substitutes for suet in the notes below.)
For those of you who like using recipe cards, I’ve copied this recipe into a recipe card at the end of the post, so if you prefer that version you can scroll to the bottom for that.
Old-Fashioned Mincemeat Pie Recipe:
- 1 lb beef (I used ground beef from grass-fed cows) *
- 3/4 tsp salt (I like using Real Salt)
- 1 1/2 lbs apple, peeled and chopped (about 3 cups)
- 1/3 cup suet or tallow or coconut oil, or butter or coconut oil *
- 3/4 cup apple cider
- 1 Tbs ground mace (or 1/2 Tbs nutmeg if you don’t have mace)
- 1/2 Tbs cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 8 Tbs (1/2) cup raisins (or 1 full cup if not using currants too) I like to use organic raisins when possible
- 8 Tbs (1/2 cup) dried currants (or substitute raisins if you choose)
- 3 Tbs chopped candied citron pieces (optional)
* Originally minced meat pies were made by taking pieces of boiled meat and chopping it finely, as the original recipe suggests. You can certainly do that for the most authentic minced meat pie. Or, if you want a faster and simpler version, you can use ground beef instead.
* The original recipe calls for suet, but good quality suet that is appropriate for use in baking is hard to find these days. If you have a good source of suet, then feel free to substitute that to be more authentic, but if not, then tallow, coconut oil, and butter are good substitutes – preferably in that order. Tallow is rendered suet, so it would be the closest thing (although there is a difference between kidney fat suet and regular suet, but for this pie I don’t think it would make as big of a difference as it would for puddings), and if you can’t find that then coconut oil would probably be the next closest substitute as far as consistency when baking even though it’s not the most historically-accurate ingredient (If you decided to use coconut oil, I recommend using an expeller-pressed refined coconut oil if you want a more neutral flavor rather than a coconut flavor in your pie) If the beef you are using has a higher fat content, you can also adjust the amount of butter or coconut oil that you use. I was using an 85% ground beef, so 1/3 cup was about the right amount for me, but if you have a leaner beef, then you might want to increase the amount of butter or coconut oil by a little.
Note: If you want to be really authentic, you can boil some beef in hot water and then chop the meat up into small pieces so it is truly a “minced” meat, hence the name of the pie.
- If using ground beef, brown the meat in a saucepan over medium heat, and add the salt in with the meat. If using other cuts of beef, boil the meat and then chop it finely into small pieces.
- In a large bowl, combine chopped apples, chopped suet (or your suet substitute), cider, spices, and fruit. Add the beef and apple cider and mix well until all ingredients are thoroughly combined.
- Line a 9″ pie plate with your favorite pie pastry recipe (If you don’t have a favorite pastry recipe I recommend this pie crust recipe).
- Pour the mincemeat filling inside, spreading it evenly, and then put on the top crust. Seal the crust around the edge with a fork and cut little slivers in the middle to let out steam.
- Then bake in a 400 degree oven for about 45 minutes, or until the crust looks golden brown.
I was pleasantly surprised by how good this pie was! I never would have thought that meat could work in a dessert-type pie, but it blends right in with the other ingredients, and you hardly even notice it’s there. The first flavors you taste when you take a bite are the fruit and the spices, and the meat just gives the pie a nice rich flavor. The only sweetener in this pie is the fruit and the apple cider, so the sweet flavor is mild, not sickenly-sweet at all.
It’s not quite as sweet as most desserts are, so if you were to serve it as a dessert for guests that have a real sweet tooth, you could always add a couple teaspoons of sugar or molasses. I thought the flavor was quite nice without any extra sugar, though.
This pie is a unique combination of savory and sweet, and even though it might not be as popular as it once was, mincemeat pie is a true, old-fashioned taste of history.
- 1 lb. beef (see notes below)
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 lbs. (about 3 cups) of apples that have been peeled and chopped
- 1/3 cup suet chopped into small pieces (or tallow, or coconut oil, or butter, depending on what you have available) See notes below.
- 3/4 cup apple cider
- 1 Tbs ground mace (or you can substitute nutmeg if you don't have mace)
- 1/2 Tbs. ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 1/2 dried currents (or you can substitute an additional 1/2 cup of raisins if you don't have currents)
- 3 Tbs. chopped candied citron pieces (optional)
- Pie pastry for top and bottom crust to fit a 9inch pie plate (See notes below)
- If using ground beef, brown the meat in a saucepan over medium heat. If you are using other cuts of raw beef, boil the beef until it is cooked and then chop it into small pieces. Or, if you are using left over beef that has already been cooked, you can chop the meat into small pieces. After chopping the beef, add the salt to the meat.
- In a large bowl, combine chopped apples, chopped suet (or your suet substitute) cider, spices, and fruit. Add the beef and apple cider and mix well until all ingredients are thoroughly combined. (If you want to be more authentic, you can chop up all of the ingredients together at this point to mince them finely.)
- Line a 9 inch pie plate with pastry and then pour in the mincemeat.
- Add the top crust, sealing the edges with a fork and cutting slivers in the top to let out steam. If you want an extra golden brown crust you can brush the top of the pie with some egg.
- Bake in a 400 degree oven for about 45 minutes until the crust looks golden brown.
Traditionally, this pie would typically have been with beef that had been finely chopped (or minced), but if you want a faster, more modern version of this recipe you can simply use ground beef.
The original recipe calls for suet, but good quality suet that is appropriate for use in baking is hard to find these days. If you have a good source of suet, then feel free to substitute that to be more authentic, but if not, then tallow, coconut oil, or butter can be substitutes. (If you decided to use coconut oil, I recommend using an expeller-pressed refined coconut oil if you want a more neutral flavor rather than a coconut flavor in your pie) If the beef you are using has a higher fat content, you can also adjust the amount of butter or coconut oil that you use. I was using an 85% ground beef, so 1/3 cup was about the right amount for me, but if you have a leaner beef, then you might want to increase the amount of butter or coconut oil by a little.
You can use whichever pie pastry recipe you like best, or if you don't have a favorite recipe, you can use this recipe that I recommend.
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The information in this post is not to be taken as medical advice and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease.