4 Things You Always Wanted to Know About That Mysterious Holiday Mincemeat But Were Afraid to Ask

No need to avoid mincemeat this holiday.

I know what you are thinking. Ick, I wouldn’t touch mincemeat pie with at 10 foot pole (what exactly is it anyway¦some weird combination of meat and fruit?). Well, yes, and no. It depends on where you are from. Ironically, many family cookbooks will have at least one recipe for mincemeat (even if no one in the family ever makes it).

Sadly, there are the legions of Americans who have never eaten, let alone tasted, any form of mincemeat in their entire lives. Those who have tried it aren’t so adverse. Men seem to like it particularly. Especially if it is topped with a brandy-laced hard sauce.

According to the Epicurious food dictionary, mincemeat is “A rich, spicy preserve made of fruit (usually chopped cherries, dried apricots, apples or pears, raisins and candied citrus peel), nuts, beef suet, various spices, and brandy or rum. Old-time mincemeats included minced, cooked lean meat (usually beef), hence the name.”

Back in the day, when sweet spices (such as nutmeg, cloves, allspice, cinnamon), became available, the spices and fruits were easily combined for a tasty dish to accompany meats. When both were combined into a pie is basically unknown, (perhaps as the first all in one entree-dessert leftover casserole?)  More likely, think of cooks adding sweet spices and fruits to mask the stench and taste of rotting meat, or to preserve it.

Today, it seems mincemeat is more misunderstood than in olden days. Following are 4 things you always wanted to know about that mysterious holiday mincemeat but were afraid to ask:

1. Meat or Fruit?
YES. Mincemeat can be both meat and fruit, or just fruit, which is the more modern interpretation. A traditional recipe would include:
– Meat, either pork, lamb, or beef
– Suet (hardened beef fat¦get those arteries primed)
– Available fruits, such as apples, raisins, currants, cranberries, sour cherries
– Spices and vinegar
– Sweetener, such as brown sugar or molasses
However, today a mincemeat pie in the British Isles is typically a savory dish made with two pastry crusts, ground (minced) beef, onion, and beef bouillon gravy with no fruit (think Shepherd’s Pie without the fluffy mashed potato topping).

2. Entree or Dessert?
DESSERT (in U.S). In the beginning, mincemeat pie was a main course because it contained more meat than fruits (which most likely were added as an extender to meat, which may have been scarce). Today in the United States, mincemeat pie is typically a dessert to a Thanksgiving or Christmas meal.

3. Pie or Topping?
PIE. You can buy mincemeat filling in jars to make your own pie, or buy ready-made pies in the frozen food section of the supermarket. Years ago, such frozen pies are were labeled mincemeat pie, but in an attempt to broaden the pie’s appeal to the uneducated masses, many brands have switched to the more common “mince” pie name (presumably so people will buy it).  A modern twist is to use mincemeat filling with ice cream as a topping or as a new version of the pie. Recipes for Mincemeat Ice Cream Pie includes mincemeat (some spiked with brandy), chopped nuts, French vanilla ice cream and whipping cream. Yum.
Mincemeat Ice-Cream Pie
Brandied Mincemeat Ice Cream Pie

4. Low calorie or high calorie?
HIGH CALORIE. Although a typical slice of sweet-tart mincemeat pie has fewer calories per slice (about 360) than apple pie (410) or pecan pie (480), it has an intense sweetness and is very rich. Depending upon the recipe, the pie’s sweetness is driven by raisins, currants, prunes, dates, candied fruits, with sugar, molasses, or fruit juices added.  Slivers of mincemeat pie instead of slabs may be preferred. The sweetness can also be tempered with whipped cream, ice cream or the favorite previously-mentioned hard sauce. (By the way, pumpkin pie weighs in at 180 calories a slice, without the whipped cream, mind you).  Mincemeat pie is not a light and fluffy ending to a meal, so you either hate it or love it.

So what is mincemeat?  Apparently anything you want it to be.
Mincemeat is nothing to shy away from, and just might be a fresh tradition to your holiday table.
Try it, you might like it, and add it to your family cookbook!

Learn more about mincemeat and its traditions:

Mincemeat Pie History

Happy cookbooking,


About Erin Miller

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Posted in Odds and Ends.

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