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Homemade mincemeat is so… Christmassy. Open a jar of allspice for the following recipe, get the first whiff and you can almost hear Santa and Rudolph on the roof already. Either that or you have burglars again.

Vegetarian mincemeatMy crime novel Black Marigolds is set in the run-up to Christmas. Hence it has lots of Christmassy dishes.

This mincemeat recipe never made the book but it’s great if you’re making mince pies (or as an accompaniment to ice cream).

Many mincemeat recipes include suet. This one doesn’t. There’s absolutely no fat. So it’s light and vegetarian.

The Moss Reid character in my books is an unashamed omnivore, though sometimes I regret that I didn’t make him vegetarian. It might have been more interesting. Anyway, here goes…

What you will need

  • 350 ml fresh apple juice
  • 150g dark brown sugar
  • 900g cooking apples, peeled and cored after weighing
  • grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
  • 450g mixed fruit – currants, raisins and sultanas
  • 50g almond flakes
  • 100g glacé cherries
  • an optional large dollop (a dessertspoon or so) of good honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground allspice (use berries if you can, crushing them with a pestle and mortar)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves (again, try to grind whole cloves if you can)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg (optional)
  • a good splash of Irish whiskey (optional) – or try a glug of brandy or dark rum

The method

  1. Pop the apple juice in a large pot, add the sugar and begin to melt it over a gentle heat.
  2. Meanwhile chop the cherries, lemon rind and almonds fairly finely and put them to one side.
  3. Cut the apples into roughly thumb-sized lumps. Don’t worry about them going brown – the mincemeat will end up dark brown anyway.
  4. Once the sugar is dissolved, add the apples, turn up the heat a little and cook till they just start to puree.
  5. Add the rest of the ingredients (apart from the whiskey if using it), stir well together so they’re mixed. Bring to the boil, turn down the heat, cover and simmer for half an hour. The mixture should be quite soft, with no big apple lumps
  6. (Optional) Add a large dash of whiskey and give a quick stir
  7. Pour the mixture into sterilised jars.

But where’s the “meat” in mincemeat? It stems from an early method of preserving chopped beef or lamb with spices and fruit over the winter (so it would have been a close cousin of chutneys).

Nowadays the only ingredient in mincemeat recipes to remind us of its meaty history is the grated beef suet if you’re using it. Even so, you do come across the occasional mincemeat recipe with actual meat.

A thrifty tip

One seasonal recipe that did make it into Black Marigolds was for apple jelly. Nowadays when I make this mincemeat recipe I don’t throw away the apple skins and cores. They go into making the syrup that’s a basis for the jelly.