Many people don’t like thinking about Christmas until the beginning of December – I know I don’t! However, there are a few things that need to be prepared well in advance for them to be at their peak for the big day. Christmas cake, sloe gin, piccalilli and home-made mincemeat are just a few.
I’m very fussy about my mincemeat; I don’t like it to be overly citrusy – so, very little orange or lemon zest & juice and no mixed candied peel. In addition, it needs to be veggie – so can only contain vegetarian suet. The only way to ensure it tastes the way I like it is to make it myself. A very easy job and well worthwhile. It works out much cheaper than the cost of ‘luxury’ jars of the stuff in supermarkets. Once made, potted up and put away correctly, it stores unopened for years!
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Luxury home-made mincemeat
- 200g/7oz currants
- 200g/7oz raisins
- 200g/7oz sultanas
- 100g/3½oz dried cranberries
- 100g/3½oz figs, roughly chopped
- 100g/3½oz prunes, roughly chopped
- 30g/1oz blanched almonds*, roughly chopped
- 1 medium cooking apple, peeled, cored & finely diced
- 300g/10½oz muscovado sugar
- 200g/7oz vegetable suet
- zest & juice of 1 lemon
- 3tsp mixed spice
- ½tsp cinnamon
- ¼tsp nutmeg
- 6tbsp rum or brandy
- 100g/3½oz butter, cubed
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- Put all the ingredients except the alcohol into a large saucepan over a low heat
- Stir to ensure the contents are well combined and the suet and butter have melted (about 10 minutes)
- Allow to cool completely before stirring in the alcohol
- Decant into sterilised jam jars - gently bang the bottom of each jar to fit as much of the mincemeat in as possible.
- Seal the jars immediately and store for at least a month before use
- *To blanch almonds, put them in a heat-proof bowl and cover with boiling water. Allow to stand for 1-2 minutes before draining through a sieve. Pat them dry on some kitchen paper or clean tea towel. You can quickly get the skin off one by one by pinching the broader, rounded end of the nut
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The hawthorn, or Crataegus Monogyna, is one of the latest fruiting shrubs of the year. They’re an important source of food for winter visiting birds such as redwings, fieldfares waxwings.
I’m sure they didn’t mind sharing just a few with us so we could make a couple of bottles of haw ketchup!
Some people are a bit wary of picking wild, red berries; they’re worried about whether they could be poisonous. I took a photo of the shrub to help with identification!
If you’re still unsure, here’s a close up of the berries and their leaves. The recipe we used is from Pam Corbin, aka ‘Pam the Jam’. She’s patron of The Guild of Jam and Preserve Makers, but she’s probably best known as a regular on Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s TV programmes and penning the books on preserves and cakes from his River Cottage Handbook series.
- 500g/18oz haw berries
- 300ml/10½ floz cider vinegar
- 300ml/10½ fl oz water
- 170g/6oz granulated sugar
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Wash a bottle with a vinegar-proof screw-top or stopper before putting them into an oven at 130°C/275°F/Gas mark 1. Alternatively, put both the bottle & screw-top/stopper in a large saucepan and fill with enough water to cover the bottle completely. Bring to a boil and simmer for at least 15 minutes
- Rinse the berries in a large sieve or colander and remove any stalks and leaves
- Put them in a saucepan with the vinegar and water
- Bring the mixture to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, by which time the berries will have turned a dull brown and their skins will have split to reveal their yellow flesh
- Tip into a sieve over a clean pan and rub the fruit through with a spoon, leaving the skins and pips behind
- Add the sugar to the purée in the pan and heat gently, stirring until it dissolves
- Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring often to ensure it doesn't catch
- Funnel the hot sauce into the hot, clean bottle and seal straight away
This sauce improves with age, so you can leave it for a few weeks before opening. Use within a year and refrigerate once open