Fruit mince (sorry, I just can’t bring myself to call it mincemeat) always reminds me of my paternal grandmother. She lived in Tasmania, in a big house on a suburban block which sloped sharply uphill. The whole thing was terraced, the front garden full of rose bushes with a patch of closely tended lawn, but it was in the back garden that the real magic happened. Every bit of space in that garden was devoted to growing all manner of fruit and vegetables. We would routinely be corralled into shelling peas, pulling carrots, collecting raspberries… And she made everything from scratch. Ooooh, you should have tasted her rosehip jam!
Christmas was a very traditional affair, a big British-style roast dinner, despite the often scorching heat of the Australian summer. But the best part as far as I was concerned were the sweet treats that a trip to Nana’s meant. Desserts as far the eye could see! Well, it seemed like that through a child’s eye, at any rate. And Christmas meant fruitcakes, pudding, custard and mince tarts. After all these years and half a world away, it’s my turn to carry the fruit-mince-making torch. I’m pretty sure she’d say I was doing it wrong by not using suet, but at least I’m making it, right?!
You can vary the dried fruits – I used what I had in the pantry – and you can add slivered almonds if you choose. Some recipes have you cook the fruit mince in a slow oven for a few hours, but my oven didn’t have time to spare so I did it on the stovetop. Actually, there are plenty of recipes out there that don’t cook it at all, but I find the fruit plumps and the flavours mingle better with a bit of heat.
The texture is perfectly soft without being mushy, and the taste… oh, the taste. Sweet, warmly spiced, rich… This is the real deal, even without suet.
Makes about 6 cups // 1.5 litres (3 US pints) // 1.2 kg (2 1/2 lb).
Preparation about 15 minutes
Cooking about 30 minutes
Resting about 12 hours
Bottling about an hour (including sterilising and water bath)
Leave it a week before using
100g (3/4 cup) currants
100g (3/4 cup) dried cranberries
150g (1 cup) golden sultanas
150g (1 cup) raisins
100g (3/4 cup) candied mixed peel
2 apples (about 450g, 1 lb), (e.g. Granny Smith, I used Jazz), peeled, cored and grated
juice and finely grated zest of 1 orange
juice and finely grated zest of 1 lemon
200g (1 cup, packed) brown (demerara) sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
pinch of ground mace
small pinch ground cloves
115g (1 stick or 1/2 cup) butter, diced
60ml (1/4 cup) brandy
Combine all ingredients except the brandy in a medium, heavy-based saucepan, and cook, covered, over very low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove from heat and set aside to cool completely, stirring occasionally. Don’t worry if it looks to have a lot of liquid – it will thicken considerably as it cools.
Add the brandy and stir well, cover and let rest at room temperature overnight – about 12 hours.
Prepare your jars by sterilising according to your preferred method – I boil the jars and lids for 20 minutes. Spoon the fruit mince into the jars and seal tightly. You can either pop them straight into the pantry to rest, or you can process them further – I do a water bath, submerging the jars completely and boiling for 20 minutes.
Either way, leave them at least a week (up to a year!) before use, so the flavour gets a chance to mature.
Stay tuned for recipes using this batch to come!