mincemeat, n. See mince, v. and meat, n.; also 18-- mincement (irreg.). 1a. Meat cut up or ground into very small pieces. Cf. earlier minced meat. 1b. The mixture of currants, raisins, sugar, suet, apples, almonds, candied peel, spices, etc., and originally meat chopped small, typically baked in pastry, as in mince pies and other traditional Christmas dishes. Compare: earlier mince pie n.: a savoury pie containing minced meat, esp. beef; a meat pie. Oxford English Dictionary
So at Thanksgiving, my sister's husband expressed great sorrow at the lack of mincemeat pie at our dessert table. Since we have never, in all our years, served mincemeat pie at Thanksgiving or at any other time, I must say his expression of dismay took me a little aback. And when you picture the apple pie, chocolate chess pie, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, ice cream, and widely strewn chocolate candies that we had all just gorged on, you can imagine the look on my sister's face (and mine -- we are very like) as we both responded. My sister actually only said one word. No, it was not that word. She reminded us, "Suet." So -- that was the end of that discussion.
My response was, "Dude, if you had wanted mincemeat at Thanksgiving, you should have put your request in at the beach last summer." Because mincemeat -- real mincemeat -- takes forever to make. And also? Gross. My sister wasn't kidding about the suet. Check out this post at the very fun blog, Hail, Britannia, which tells the aspiring pie maker just how to render her suet to remove the blood, connective tissue, and "other nasty bits." The pastor (my brother-in-law) didn't want to hear about that part!
Once you've got the suet, you're ready to make the mincemeat. Here is the way Mary Randolph (related by both birth and marriage to the noted colonial and Revolution-era family) described how to make it in her influential 1824 cookbook, The Virginia House-wife:
Mrs. Randolph doesn't tell her readers how to make the "paste" (pastry or pie-crust), and she doesn't tell us how long to bake the pie -- she assumes the ladies reading her book are not morons. The quantity of mincemeat the recipe would allow us to "put up" tells us that this batch of mincemeat, once made, would be set by in a pantry until it was needed -- properly stored mincemeat could be safely used weeks or months later, and many experienced cooks swore that the longer it sat in the pantry the more flavorful it would be.
Well, so if the idea of rendering suet so you can then boil up some beef or hog feet and put up jars and jars of mincemeat -- before you ever get to the part about the pie -- exhausts you, how about making some festive cookies instead? And for our calendar, here is a great cookbook with lots of Christmas-y recipes -- perfect for the church cookie exchange, or to take to that sweet host or hostess, or to leave in the faculty workroom at your kids' elementary school. Just make sure you keep some cookies to put out for Santa, too!