Yesterday, the internet lost its collective religion when food website the Spruce published a recipe for a mincemeat tart that used actual minced meat (what we might call ground chuck in the U.S.) topped with apples and a suggested side of sweet brandy sauce.
The New Yorker’s Helen Rosner pointed out on Twitter that mincemeat hasn’t actually contained meat for a century, “minus stunt cooking.” One commenter on the Spruce recipe said that publication had “done a Rachel,” referring to the episode of Friends in which Rachel gets the pages of a cookbook stuck together and makes a dessert trifle that includes a layer of ground beef, peas, and onions. A few hours after publication, the Spruce had stripped the recipe and pictures of all meat mentions and images, renaming the piece “Mincemeat and Apple Tart—Now Meat Free!” An editor’s note reads, in part, “Modern-day mincemeat is a sweet concoction. While the tart filling did once contain beef and lamb (à la Rachel’s now-infamous “Friends” trifle), current recipes use a blend of dried and fresh fruits, sugar, Brandy, and suet.”
But I am from Louisiana, where the meat pie is so revered we annually devote an entire weekend festival to celebrating the concept of putting ground beef and pork sausage into shortcrust pastry. So I was immediately equally willing to devote an afternoon to baking and not writing out of a sense of fairness to both meat and traditional recipes.
Most old English recipes do, in fact, sound as if someone got the pages of a recipe book stuck together. As colonization flooded the continent with new spices, sugar, exotic fruits, and vegetables no one had ever heard of, it took a while before everyone agreed on how best to divide sweets and savories. Hence the recipe for mincemeat in the mid-nineteenth century seminal food text, Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management. The recipe does call for minced meat alongside brown sugar, spices, dried fruit, and citrus. So I made Mrs. Beeton’s recipe, along with the Spruce’s pie crust and suggested brandy sauce. It was all fine! My roommate got stoned and ate half of it, so your drunk holiday relatives probably will too.
Here’s Mrs. Beeton’s recipe:
- 2 lbs raisins
- 3 lbs currants
- 1 1/2 lbs of lean beef such as rump
- 3 lbs of suet – fresh is best, put the packet stuff is also good
- 2 pounds of soft dark brown sugar
- 6 oz mixed candied citrus peel (cintron, lemon, orange &c)
- 1 nutmeg, grated
- 2 lbs of tart apples such as Cox’s Orange pippins, peeled, cored and grated
- the zest of 2 lemons and the juice of one
- 1/2 pint of brandy
- Mince the beef and suet (or get your butcher to do it).
And here is a recipe with updated measurements I found in Saveur. Because I didn’t feel like candying anything, I simply grated the peel into the “mince,” which was just sirloin steak I chopped very finely. Much to my chagrin, the Ralph’s in West Hollywood does not carry suet, but much to my delight, it does carry lard. I used one cup because two cups sounded like a serious and potentially scary lard situation. In place of currants, which I do not believe actually exist outside British novel descriptions of pudding, I used figs because figgy pudding is Christmas-y, goddamn it. Also, because of the constraints of the short news cycle and 21st death of the attention span, my mincemeat mixture simply rested for two hours and not the two weeks that could have killed me. Other than that, I did what the recipes asked, baking the pie at 350 for 50 minutes, then turning the heat up to 400 to let the apples cook in the sizzling lard just a bit longer.
There’s a reason the meat hasn’t survived the centuries, and that reason isn’t because the meat is gross. It simply doesn’t add much, flavor or texture-wise. If the meat had been replaced by apples or even pears, the flavors would have been just as rich, wintery, and good. But the meat did nothing to detract from the nuttiness of the nutmeg alongside the sweetness of the apples and the acidity of the citrus. If this was a side dish for a pork chop, I’d probably stack in on my fork to get all the flavors in one bite. The apples on top, roasted in the fruit juices, brandy, and lard, are a delight. I had one slice and declared it fine. My roommate, who is also from Louisiana had once slice and told me to wrap it up and refrigerate it. This morning, two more slices were gone, which again might be more to do with California’s legal cannabis than any strength of the pie.
Final verdict: I’ve had worse pies than this. Hell, I’ve made worse pies than this. Keep the meat in, and let me know what it tastes like if it rests a few days.