It is mincemeat season. Mincemeat smells like Thanksgiving and Christmas together, spicy, rich, and redolent of the holidays and this is the season to make it while there are fresh apples available, and, if you are lucky enough to have hunter in your midst, venison, especially neck meat. Make it now and by the holidays all the flavors will have had time to meld and mellow out, ready for pies, tarts, or for this lovely cake.
Minnie McCormick in Dover-Foxcroft sent me this recipe a while back, along with her mincemeat recipe and promised myself I’d use it in the fall when you can make it with mincemeat you can buy, in case you don’t make your own. Starting about now in grocery stores you can find commercially made jars of the kind that has no meat in it anymore, or the condensed sort that still does, though not much.
Mincemeat is practically an ancient recipe. In past times, mincemeat was one way to preserve meat following fall butchering. Suet and beef chopped finely put stray bits of tough meat to good use. Some of the earliest recipes I’ve seen call for beef tongue; and wherever hunting was and is part of the local culture, venison. Mincemeat always struck me as an early form of convenience food. Make up a crock of it, keep it in a cold pantry or in the cellar, and whenever you needed a pie, the filling was made and all ready to be spooned into a pastry lined pan. Now we tend to can it, and a quart of mincemeat makes one fine pie.
Minnie uses venison neck in her mincemeat. She wrote, “One small deer neck will make a batch,” and she allowed that one can use “chunks of old steak.” I’ve used chuck.
In Maine I first ran into mincemeat recipes calling for a “bowl” as a unit of measure. My dental hygienist, Sonia Gilbert of Dexter, Maine, first told me about it. Her grandmother, Nanny, used to measure out mincemeat ingredients by the bowlful. Then here on Islesboro I picked up another by-the-bowl recipe, this one used by famed cook, Edna Durkee. The question someone always asks is, what size bowl, though as long as the cook uses the same bowl you can keep all the ingredients in proportion.
I envision a pudding bowl, about a quart. Then all the rest of the ingredients are to taste, really, as you add cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg, sweetening it with molasses or white or brown sugar. Maine recipes often call for a cup of coffee, historic recipes call for brandy, which promoted preservation. Raisins and apples are a must, and cider is common. A lot of more modern recipes call for butter while historic recipes called for bits off butter added to the pie just before baking. Suet used to be required though I see modern recipes call for it less frequently.
You could invent your own mincemeat recipe. Then, when you have made it and given it a week or so to season, use Minnie’s terrific cake recipe for an autumn treat. She says you can turn this into fruit cake by adding dates and nuts. Her recipe calls for canned milk, but you could use half-n-half. The cake doesn’t need frosting though if you hankered for it, a vanilla or lemon one would work, as would cream cheese frosting. I made my trial cake in a round pan, but Minnie says the recipe makes one regular loaf or five mini-loaves.
- 1 cup sugar
- ½ cup shortening or butter (one stick)
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon vinegar
- ½ cup canned milk or half-n-half
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1½ cups flour
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- 1 cup mincemeat
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9x5 loaf pan or 10 inch round cake pan.
- Cream together the sugar and shortening or butter.
- Beat in one egg.
- Put the vinegar into the milk, and then add the baking soda to the milk.
- Add the milk mixture alternately with the flour to the butter and sugar mixture.
- Add the vanilla.
- Mix well, then add the mincemeat and incorporate it thoroughly.
- Pour into the greased pan and bake for forty-five minutes or until a tester inserted comes out clean.