September is a good time to be making fruit mince. Not only will you feel really good because you have started planning for Christmas (!) but you will be rewarded with a much better product when you come to use it in a few months time.
Growing up we always called fruit mince mincemeat, but in recent years it seems that fruit mince has taken over as the preferred name, probably to avoid confusion. Fruit mince did originally contain diced or finely chopped meat, often beef. Very early recipes included a mixture of meat and fruit and vinegar or wine which was then used as a pie filling.
My 1888 edition of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management includes a number of mincemeat recipes. This American Recipe for Mincemeat includes boiled beef tongue as well as beef suet. By this stage distilled spirits such as brandy had replaced the vinegar or wine as the preserving liquid and sugar was added to make it more of a sweet dish than a savoury one.
It probably wasn’t until the mid twentieth century that mincemeat was used to describe a mixture that didn’t include meat, although it invariably still included suet.
Fruit Mince is very simple to make – it really is a matter of chopping, grating and mixing and then leaving it to mature and mellow. By the time you use it in December the dried fruit will be plump from the alcohol and juice from the apples and citrus fruits, the liquid will by syrupy and the alcohol will have lost its sharpness and instead will be smooth and luscious. Hopefully after your Christmas cooking you will have some left over because it really is good to use all year round.
- 250g raisins (I generally chop these in half so that they are about the same size as the sultanas.)*
- 250g sultanas (You could choose to chop these as well so that all of the dried fruit is about currant size, but I prefer it chunkier)
- 250g currants
- 250g dried cranberries
- 200g mixed peel (lots of people don’t like mixed peel, so feel free to leave it out)
- 125g slivered almonds
- 600g Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and coarsely grated
- 1 large carrot, peeled and coarsely grated
- 250g frozen butter, grated (you can use suet instead of the butter. If you do you will probably need to order it in advance from your butcher)
- Zest and juice of 1 orange
- Juice of 2 lemons
- 500g dark brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 3/4 cup brandy
- 1/4 cup dry sherry (you could use all brandy or whiskey instead if you prefer)
Mix the dried fruit and grated butter in a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and mix until well combined. Leave the fruit mince to stand in a covered bowl for two days, stirring it frequently. Transfer the fruit mince to sterilised jars and store it in a cool, dry and dark place. Leave for at least one month before using, but it will only improve with age. If you live in a particularly humid place, where Christmas coincides with Summer you might want to consider storing your fruit mince in the fridge.
Fruit Mince ready for Bottling
* Throughout her book, Mrs Beeton provides snippets of information that would be useful to someone keeping house. In relation to raisins she says:
Raisins are grapes, prepared by suffering them to remain on the vine until they are perfectly ripe, and then drying them in the sun or by the heat of an oven. All the kinds of raisins have much the same virtues; they are nutritive and balsamic, but they are very subject to fermentation with juices of any kind; and hence when eaten immoderately, they often bring on colics.
This time last year Michael and I were in Italy. We landed in Milan and spent the next ten days meandering our way to Orvietto in Umbria via Bolongna and Siena. It was from Orvietto that we were starting our 12 day walk to the coast and the island of Giglio. The weather was warm and dry (except for a overnight storm in Bolsena that bought down centuries old trees, but we happened to sleep through), the walking was perfect, the accommodation varied (farms, converted palaces, small family run hotels) and the food magnificent. Each day we walked about 20-25 kilometres, traversing old pilgrim routes, etruscan walkways and through small villages and towns. We picked fresh figs and walnuts from the trees on the side of the roads and I lamented the fact that I couldn’t bring home the rose hips and elderflowers that were growing wild and seemingly unnoticed by anyone. We ate some great food – nettle and ricotta ravioli, cauliflower carpaccio with poached egg, stuffed cuttlefish, wild boar and rabbit, faro in all sorts of guises, fresh truffles and porcini mushrooms and of course good wine to accompany it all.
For a cake lover like myself, one of the best things about eating in Italy was that it was possible to eat cake for nearly every meal, including breakfast. At various places that we stayed I managed to gather a collection of recipes for cakes suitable for breakfast. These invariably included citrus, almond meal or ricotta. I was reminded of these cakes today when I was looking for something to make for Father’s Day lunch that would use up the ricotta I had in the fridge and preferably some of the many lemons I also have. This lemon ricotta cake is moist and dense but at the same time quite light and it’s not overly sweet. You could quite easily substitute the lemon for orange.
I can’t quite bring myself to eat cake for breakfast when I’m at home so we had this for lunch with some macerated strawberries and a dollop of whipped cream but when you see the ingredients and realise that there isn’t anything that is really too bad for you, you might be tempted to have it for breakfast.
Lemon Ricotta Cake
- 450g ricotta
- 3 large eggs, separated (a lovely customer at the markets gave me a dozen duck eggs on Saturday which are perfect for this cake. Duck eggs are higher in protein than chicken eggs meaning that cakes tend to rise more – and why they are highly sought after for making a sponge cake. They also tend to be bigger than chicken eggs which may need to be taken into account, but for a recipe such as this it doesn’t make much difference)
- 100g caster sugar
- 250g almond meal
- zest of 3 lemons
- juice of 1 lemon
- seeds from 1 vanilla pod
Preheat the oven to 170 degrees. Line a round springform tin with baking paper (about a 23cm one).
Put the ricotta, egg yolks, lemon zest, juice and vanilla in a food processor and whizz until it is mixed and smooth. Add the sugar and almond meal and mix again until well combined. In a separate bowl whisk the egg whites until stiff and then fold the whites through the ricotta mixture. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for about 50-60 minutes. If the top looks to be getting too brown, cover with alfoil. The texture of this cake is similar to a baked cheese cake, so you will be able to tell that it is cooked when it is set, rather than testing with a skewer.
Serve with strawberries or other berries and store any left overs in the fridge.
I really like dessert. I’m one of those people who always looks at the dessert menu first before deciding what to order. At home we have abandoned modern dietary thinking that dessert should be a sometimes treat and more often than not we eat dessert. And I’m not talking about a bowl of ice cream sort of dessert – that to me isn’t real dessert. Nor am I talking about elaborate special occasion desserts just good, simple, tasty desserts that nicely round off the evening meal. Golden syrup dumplings, Apple Brown Betty, rice pudding (also great for breakfast!), that sort of thing. We don’t of course eat these things in the middle of summer (except perhaps rice pudding – it’s good all year round) so winter is a great time to make the most of puddingy type desserts. One dessert that we have frequently, probably at least once a fortnight is a crumble of some description. It’s relatively quick and easy to make and the variations are endless depending on what’s in season. Recently we have had pear and chocolate crumble, a tropical crumble made with pineapple and passionfruit, apple and passionfruit and most recently apple and strawberry.
Writing a recipe for crumble is a little difficult as I make it up as I go along and there really isn’t too much that can go wrong. You can adapt it to what you have in the fruit bowl and the pantry. I like a lot of a fruit and a medium amount of crumble but you can adjust this to your preferences. And I like a crumble that has a bit of body so I tend to use wholemeal flour, at least in part and I generally add oats, sometimes some coconut or some nuts. This is my stab at a recipe for the Apple and Strawberry Crumble I made.
Apple & Strawberry Crumble
- 5 apples, peeled, cored and cut into slices
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 250g strawberries, hulled and cut into half
- 1/2 cup wholemeal plain flour
- 1/4 cup self raising flour
- 100g butter
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/3 cup shredded coconut
Place the apple slices into a saucepan with the 2 tablespoons of sugar and about 1 tablespoon of water. Cook over a medium heat until apples are soft. Remove from the heat and stir through the strawberries (as a much softer fruit the strawberries will cook enough just in the oven). Transfer to an oven dish. Preheat oven to 180 degrees.
To make the crumble, add the flours to a bowl and rub in the butter until it resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in brown sugar and coconut and sprinkle over the top of the fruit. Pat down a little, but not too firmly. Put the dish on a baking tray covered in foil (the juice from the fruit invariably dribbles over the bowl and this makes the oven much easier to clean). Place in the oven and cook for 20-30 minutes or until the crumble is golden and the fruit juices are bubbling slightly. Serve with ice cream or custard.
It is of course Bastille Day and what better way to celebrate than devouring a batch of eclairs. I need to confess straight up that choux pastry isn’t one of my regular things and the first pancake like batch was enjoyed by the chickens. The second batch however was a vast improvement and while my eclairs won’t win any prizes for looks they are very delicious. I’m not sure why the first batch didn’t work. I used the same recipe the second time and other than beating the mixture for a little longer when adding the eggs, there wasn’t any difference in what I did. It certainly isn’t difficult to make – maybe a little fiddly but the results are certainly worth it.
These eclairs have a coffee custard filling and a chocolate icing, but you could really do lots of things with the eclairs. A strawberry or raspberry cream with a white chocolate icing would be fabulous and you don’t have to make the custard cream you could just fill them with whipped cream. I have cheated a bit here with the custard cream and made the custard with custard powder rather than making it from scratch but once the cream has been added you really couldn’t tell.
- 60g butter
- 3/4 cup water
- 3/4 cup plain flour
- 3 eggs lightly beaten
Coffee Custard Cream
- 2 tablespoons custard powder
- 2 tablespoons caster sugar
- 1 cup milk
- 2 teaspoons good quality instant coffee
- 300ml cream
- 100g dark chocolate
- 15 g butter
- 2 tablespoons cream
Heat the oven to 200 degrees. Line a couple of baking trays with baking paper.
To make the choux pastry put the butter and water in a saucepan over a medium heat until the butter has melted and the mixture nearly boils. Remove from the heat and add the flour, stir to combine and then return the pan to the heat stirring the mixture with a wooden spoon until it comes away from the sides of the pan. Let the mixture cool a little. With an electric mixer add the eggs to the flour mixture a tablespoon at a time, making sure that they are well incorporated before adding more. The mixture should be smooth and glossy.
It won’t take long before the choux pastry comes away from the sides of the pan.
Fit a piping bag with a plain nozzle and pipe lengths of the pastry mixture onto the prepared trays. My eclairs were about 10cm long. Put them into the oven for 20 minutes then turn the oven temperature down to 160 degrees and cook them for a further 20 minutes or until golden. Turn off the oven and open the door a little and leave the eclairs in the oven to dry out a bit. Remove from the oven and cool.
A vast improvement on the first batch which were very flat. I think next time I would pipe them in a thinner line.
While the eclairs are baking make the custard cream. Combine the custard powder, sugar and coffee in a saucepan. Gradually add the milk and stir over a medium heat until the custard thickens. It will be quite a thick mixture. Cover the custard with plastic wrap so that the plastic touches the surface of the custard. This will stop a skin forming on the custard and refrigerate for about 30 minutes. You don’t want it to cool until it is really solid. Beat the cooled custard mixture with an electric beater and then add the cream, continuing to beat until the mixture is the consistency of whipped cream.
To make the chocolate icing, add all of the ingredients to a small saucepan and stir over a low heat until the chocolate is melted and the ingredients are smooth and glossy. Cool a little before using.
To assemble the eclairs, cut the eclairs in half but not the entire way through the eclair. With a piping bag fill the centres with the custard cream and then ice the top of the eclair and voila!
They’re not the most perfect or the prettiest eclairs but they do taste good.