The snow is swirling (though not sticking), there's hammer dulcimer and bagpipe dancing and droning Christmas music on the CD player, and there's mincemeat simmering on the stove. I've decided that nothing smells more like Christmas than mincemeat.
I recognize that the concept of mincemeat might sound a little (or a lot) nasty--it's a sweet pie made with beef. Yes, beef. In pie. And it's delicious. It's probably very much out of fashion to make mincemeat, but it's my father's favorite, so as a Christmas gift to him, I'm making a few pies' worth of filling to freeze, so my mom can make him pies later in the winter. He's a chiropractor, with a good old country doctor philosophy about his practice, so he has the sort of patients that make him fudge and cookies and pies at Christmas, and several have caught wind of his love for mincemeat. He'll be well stocked for a few weeks, anyway. But by February, who couldn't use a reminder of warm holidays?
I cobbled together a recipe based on several "Old Time Mincemeat" recipes collected online. Some were meant to be used right away, or frozen; others were canning recipes. Since many mincemeat recipes are canning recipes, vinegar figures into the ingredients for canning safety purposes, and of course then figures into the flavor as well. Even though I'm not canning this batch (I don't a pot big enough for canning...gift idea, anyone reading) I added a little vinegar to replicate the flavor.
1 1/2 lb beef--I used round steak
at least 3 cups apple cider, divided
4 cups chopped apples (I used Gala...any firmish sweet-tart apple would probably be fine)
2 cups each golden raisins and dried cranberries
1 cup brandy, extra optional
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup vinegar
1 T cinnamon
1 t each ground ginger and clove
Hack beef into big pieces. Cook in about 1 cup of cider (more may be necessary depending on size of pot). Bring to boil, then reduce to simmer. Cook about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, place cranberries and raisins in bowl, and pour 1 cup of brandy over the bowl to plump and flavor dried fruit.
Remove beef; discard cooked cider (the first recipe I read said to keep this and cook everything else in it, which is a nice idea, except that the liquid was watery and had a bit too much beefyness in it after cooking. It looked icky. I discarded and used fresh cider). Chop beef coarsly into bite-sized pieces.
Dump beef back into pot, along with apples, brandied raisin/cranberry mix, 1 cup sugar, and at least 2 cups of apple cider (shouldn't cover, but shouldn't be skimpy, either.) Add butter, vinegar, and spices. Simmer about an hour and half, until thick. If desired, add another 1/2 cup to cup of brandy toward the end of cooking.