It’s fascinating, the things people leave in books. I volunteered at Oxfam Books for a couple of months, and in that time amassed a folder (which I still have, somewhere) full of various items found between the pages of donations. I dog-ear, personally, having little respect for the ‘book’ as a totemic object, so the breadth of things used as bookmarks surprised me. Flyers and train tickets, yes, lots of them, but also very personal pieces, postcards, letters, photographs, and so on. Are these the things nearest to hand in the urgency of bookmarking, or are they saved for that purpose, a little memento kept always close by?
Inserts in practical non-fiction (gardening and cookery especially) tend towards the useful. For every copy of Mrs Beeton with all the colour plates cut out there’s an old Delia bristling with newspaper clippings, supermarket recipe pamphlets, old shopping lists … and maybe, if you’re lucky, some original recipes, carefully recorded in neat pencil. I found this one between the pages of an American book on game cookery, from 1945; some newspaper pieces within (on cooking with coon and reindeer) are of a similar vintage – a column on the back of one of them railing against socialism – so I assume this recipe is too. More research, as they say, is needed.
So. The recipe – which, as you can see, is a list of ingredients with no method or yield given – is untitled, but looks, from the sugar, the fruit, the adding of alcohol to each jar, like a recipe for mincemeat, of the old English and it seems the American kind which actually contains meat. (I was always dubious about the existence of such a thing, as ‘meat’ in some contexts [sweetmeat] just means ‘food’, and it seemed to go hand-in-hand with the preposterous assertion that spices were used to mask rotten meat, but it seems I was wrong.) When I shared the ‘recipe’ on Twitter, Dan Lepard came to the same conclusion, and proffered the helpful fact that Wellington is a variety of cooking apple, similar to our Bramley.
The final piece of the puzzle came from the fine Penguin Handbook The American Heritage Cookbook, dating from the 60s but collating rather older dishes, which features a recipe for Sunnyside Mincemeat Pie, with a strikingly similar list of ingredients – only beef instead of venison. I had assumed that a meat-containing mincemeat, unlike the usual British variety, must require cooking prior to jarring, and here was confirmation! I had a method – and my neighbour was giving away bags of windfall Bramleys. Isn’t it nice when things work out?
With apologies to the original cook, I have streamlined the amounts somewhat in converting to metric. That half an ounce of venison might have seemed very important – or maybe it’s just what she happened to have. Either way, I’ve kept things simpler. I’ve also gone with the original mix of dates and prunes, because I like prunes. Do as you like – dried cherries are nice.
You can see that the original recipe called for meat and fat to be marinated, but not in what; I’ve skipped this altogether. Unless it means heavily brined (possible), I can’t see that you’d get much of the marinade through the blanket of fruit and spice.
DISCLAIMER: This involves cooking meat in what seems like an insufficiency of salt or acid and leaving it in the fridge for a month. Make sure you cook it thoroughly when you make it into pies. If I get botulism, I’ll let you know.
Makes 3 1l jars, which is far too much mincemeat.
500g venison, minced
200g suet, shredded (preferably deer, but that’s quite hard to get hold of. I used sheep, but beef will do)
1.25kg cooking apples, chopped
500g light muscovado sugar
500g dates, chopped
500g prunes, chopped
300ml nice apple juice
150 mixed candied peel, chopped
.25 t ground cloves
.25 t ground mace
.25 t ground ginger
.5 t ground nutmeg
2 t salt
1 t ground cinnamon
some booze (I don’t drink rum, so I used bramble whisky)
Put everything except the booze in a big pan, and bring to a slight simmer. Leave it there with a lid on for two hours, stirring occasionally, then pack into sterilised jars, adding a couple of tablespoons of booze to each jar. Put in the fridge and leave for a month.