23 November 2009

Oranges and lemons

This isn't a surprise. I was that kid.

You know the one.

She who read far too many history books. And historical novels. She who then had to make plum pudding from scratch. To know what it was like.

(And set it on fire. Because that's what was done.)

Learn how to dip candles. Learn to weave and quilt. Sew by hand. Knit. Crochet. Embroider. Crewel work. Those were the easy things. Card wool? Haven't gotten there yet.

Renaissance Faire? Not quite. But one day, wandering through the Museum of American History, I was collared by a small elderly docent who pronounced me "perfect" and would I model for a demonstration?

(How do they know?)

A little suspiciously, I asked model what? At which point, she whipped out a corset--hearty foundation garment for Revolutionary-era women--and began lacing me into it.

"Hold your breath!" she cried gleefully and putting her foot on a bench where bemused tourists rested, she yanked on the laces until there was no breath left in my lungs. The point of a fainting couch became crystal clear.

So dress up was less my thing, but recreating recipes was always fun.

For the last two years, I've been unable to find condensed mincemeat. The son and I are both mincemeat pie fans, and I won't buy the jarred stuff because it's vile. My mother always used the condensed, and added additional apples and raisins, and it was just fine. So this year, I bit the bullet and made my own.

I looked around the 'net for recipes for meatless mincemeat. I found one at a blog called Simply Christmas that looked closest to what I was looking for, so that was my primary inspiration (the link will take you their original recipe). Most of the other recipes I read were variations on the same theme, but this one had the best proportions.

In my book, mincemeat should be flavorful and spicy without being overly sweet. It should have texture without being mush, and some firm fruit (why my mother's addition of apple and raisin to the condensed stuff was genius). None of the spices should overwhelm. So after some fiddling and adjustment, I came up with a filling the son pronounced "Epic Win."

Meatless Mincemeat

1 orange
1 lemon
3-1/2 lbs. apples (Granny Smith and Fuji work well), cored and sliced
2 c. raisins, divided usage
1-1/2 c. dried currants
4 oz. container of diced candied orange peel
1-1/2 c. apple cider
1/2 c. rum (optional)
2-1/4 c. packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
3/4 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 tsp. ground cloves

Zest orange and lemon and put zest in food processor with the peeled, seeded fruit from orange and lemon. Process until coarsely chopped and set aside. Process apple slices until coarsely chopped and set aside. Process 1-1/2 c. raisins, currants and candied orange peel until coarsely chopped. Put all processed fruit in a 6-qt. pan, along with additional 1/2 c. raisins, cider, and rum, if using, stirring to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer uncovered for about 20 minutes or until most of the liquid has dissipated. Add sugar, salt and spices, stirring to combine. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes, until thick. Adjust spices and sweetness, if necessary. Cool mixture, put into clean containers and refrigerate.

Makes 10 cups, which should fill approximately 3 9-inch pies.

Notes: depending on the freshness of your spices, you may need more or less than what's called for. Personal preference may also dictate how much and what you use. I love the taste of cloves, but it's a spice that easily becomes overwhelming in a recipe, so I tend to start with a little and add more if necessary. I also add the rum at the beginning of the cooking because I like the flavor without the alcohol.

Go sing a nursery rhyme: "Oranges and Lemons" is a traditional English nursery rhyme. It's been in residence in my head for the last two days, which is how it ended up here--besides, who ever heard of a song about mince pie? I first encountered it reading 1984 a zillion years ago, and of course, being THAT kid, long ago divined all the lyrics, the tune and the origin. I do have a rather ominous feeling that I might have used this as a title before. Here comes a chopper to...er...make mince pie.

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