Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Apricot, Almond & Amaretto Mincemeat

One of my earliest memories of food at Christmas time is of my mum appearing by my bedside late one evening, a large mixing bowl rested in the crook of her arm. It was dark, with just a flicker of orange light creeping in through our old brown curtains from the street light outside. I felt snug under my crisp sheets and eiderdown, and comforted by the familiar sounds around me. Yet I was drowsy and bewildered.

Looking back now, the wooden spoon being proffered can only have been for me to stir our Christmas pudding. In that hazy light, as if watching myself on sepia-tinted film, my faded memory sees me push myself up, resting on one elbow as I dutifully stir the heady mixture of dried fruit, cinnamon, nutmeg, orange and brandy. With my sleep-heavy limbs, I managed one, maybe two, turns of the bowl before I settled back down, contented.

Apricot, Almond & Amaretto Mincemeat

It has been a long time since I have been around to give my mum's Christmas pudding its traditional stir for good luck. Instead it is my turn to pass these traditions on to my sons. The huge, old Mason Cash mixing bowl, with its crazed glaze. A tarnished old tablespoon which was tucked into my kitchen box when I left home for university. And one of many well-used wooden spoons, which have stirred food, banged pots as if they were drums and will one day themselves be packed into a bag leaving home for the future that lies ahead.

As I grew older, my memories of festive baking with my mum, in the kitchen of our little two up two down, turned to mince pies. Not just the odd dozen here or there. Tray after tray of brandy-laced mincemeat wrapped up in flaky shortcrust, always lovingly made by hand. The mince pie tin has to be seen to be believed. One minute filled to the brim with two, maybe three dozen rich, buttery pies, only for hands grappling to be the first to reach the last one moments later.

Homemade Apricot, Almond & Amaretto Mincemeat

The very best mince pies are those crammed so full with boozy, homemade mincemeat, that it seeps out like molten lava as they bake. My mincemeat recipe evolves year on year. This is the third iteration of 2015. The jars to be polished off this week before we embark on a new batch for 2016.


100g golden raisins
200g currants
100g large black flame raisins
200g sultanas
75g good unsalted butter
200g soft brown sugar
zest & juice 2 oranges
zest & juice 1 1/2 lemons
200g bramley apples (cored & peeled weight), grated
75g blanched almonds, toasted and roughly chopped
150g dried apricots, finely chopped
1 1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
1/2 tsp ground ginger
freshly grated nutmeg (as much or as little as you like)
100ml amaretto
25ml cognac


Mix the raisins, currants and sultanas in a large mixing bowl and pick over to remove any stems.

Put a large pan over a low heat. Add the butter, sugar, orange and lemon zest and juice and stir until the sugar has dissolved.

Add the grated apple, raisins, currants, sultanas, dried apricots, almonds and spices. Stir to combine.

Put the mixture back into the large mixing bowl and stir in the amaretto and cognac. Cover with a tea towel and leave in a cool, dark place for at least 24 hours.

If you are just making the mincemeat to use over a couple of weeks then it will keep perfectly well sealed in a plastic container.  If you want to store it in jars to keep it for longer, then fill sterilised jars, seal and store in a cool dark place.

Homemade Christmas Gifts

*Please don't be put off by the list of random dried fruit. I like to use lots of different sultanas, raisins, etc for their size, flavour and colour, but you could just use the equivalent weight of whatever you have knocking around in the cupboard. Just make sure you use the dried apricots for this recipe because it really does make a difference.

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