Mincemeat initially began as a way to preserve food. It would likely have been made in large batches and canned or stored. In many ways, early forms resembled the ingredients cut up for sausages like black pudding and white pudding. The term gets its name from fine cutting of animal ingredients and fruit, essentially mincing the ingredients needed to make mincemeat.
Most commonly, modern mincemeat contains apples, raisins or currants, suet, sugar, and spices like cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg. Adding brandy or rum, which gives it a rather tart taste, preserves it. It is common to see pies and tarts made from this form offered around the winter holidays. A mincemeat pie may be topped with ice cream or more traditionally, hard sauce, which is a butter and powdered sugar amalgamation that includes a generous shot of brandy or rum.
It is quite possible to lower the fat content of mincemeat by omitting the suet. Some people use vegetable suet instead of beef fat. An alternate recipe, which is almost identical in taste, is green tomato mincemeat. This provides the necessary tartness, but still requires a little alcohol to replicate more traditional version. The flavor combines tart, spicy and sweet to tantalize the taste buds. Occasionally people substitute a little apple cider vinegar in place of alcohol.
Some recipes also call for the addition of candied fruit or citron. Some people are quite fond of this addition, and others find the candied fruit bitter. It is not necessary to add candied fruit in order to have traditional mincemeat.
Often, a pie is made by using about 1.5 cups (about 340 grams) of mincemeat to fill the pie shell. The mincemeat is often topped with sliced pie apples like Granny Smiths or Rhode Island Greenings, to fill out the remaining shell. It is usually served in a double crust or with a lattice crust top. The top crust can be sugared to provide a little more sweetness to the pie.
Since mincemeat takes some time to prepare, as it must be simmered before being used in pies and tarts, it is a good idea to prepare it ahead. It can be canned, or it will also freeze well. Some cooks use small plastic containers to freeze a few portions for later use.
Especially with green tomato mincemeat, preparation for holiday meals including mincemeat pie must take place a few months prior to December. One can often find green tomatoes in the middle of autumn, at local farmer’s markets. Sometimes a specialty grocery store may be able to obtain them if requested. As soon as the weather turns colder, tomatoes are less likely to ripen, so one may also be able, with permission, to raid a neighbor’s garden to find green tomatoes.