If there is one thing I'd really like people to understand about wine, spirits, and beer (the things I sell for a living) it's that they come in finite quantities, sometimes travel a very long way (taking the scenic route at that, wine comes by sea, it can take months), and their availability cannot be guaranteed. Currently much of our sherry range is missing, it was relabelled, the labelling has to be passed by sherry authorities in Spain, they meet monthly, and it's caused a delay.
Obviously this is frustrating but there's absolutely nothing I can personally do about it. Threatening to go to another retailer will not magically produce the desired bottle, which no other retailer sells anyway, though you are welcome to buy an alternative from us, or elsewhere. A rant about how it's not good enough won't get the bottle either, but for the retailer who has to patiently accept the abuse, and isn't allowed to answer back it casts a shadow over the whole day, and at this time of year it's like constantly hitting a bruise.
What this has to do with mincemeat is that yesterdays disappointed customer wanted a bottle of amontillado (interesting choice) for her mincemeat, which made me think I ought to get on with mine. All other amontillado’s were to expensive, the fino she was eyeing up would almost certainly have been to dry, she didn't like whisky, rum, brandy, amaretto, or any other reasonable sounding alternative, and the look she was giving me suggested that she thought I either had cases of the stuff hidden ‘out back’ which I was withholding from spite (retailers don't do this, we want to make money by selling things, we don't always have to go and look to see if we have something either, we know because we handle every one of the tons of bottles that come into the shop, and answer the same questions all day long) or had personally drunk the lot, I hadn't.
At least making the mincemeat when I got home was calming. Fiona Cairns recipe from ‘Seasonal Baking’ is the second mincemeat I made and the first that worked. It's become a happy tradition to make my own because it's easy, smells good, makes me feel like I've accomplished something, and doesn't bubble up and escape in the same way as shop bought does. I like to make enough to give quite a bit to my mother, who makes brilliant mince pies (her pastry is excellent, mine is not), and generally as presents (I tell myself it's a nice thing to get). It's also a definite advantage of making your own that you can alter the recipe to suit your preferences/what you have, and it's a great way of using up left over dried fruit from Christmas cake and pudding making.
I've doubled the original recipe because I like mincemeat, obviously it's easily halved again.
You will want 200g of nuts, I've used hazel and almonds before (Cairns recipe is for fig and almond mincemeat), and quite like the idea of walnuts but have never had enough left over. Lightly toast the nuts, and chop them until they look the right sort of size. 200g of suet, 200g of mixed peel, 200g of Demerara sugar, and 200g of dark muscavado, can all follow the nuts into a bowl along with 3 teaspoons of mixed spice, and 2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon. Next measure out 400g of raisins or sultanas, 300g of currants, and 300g of finely chopped dried figs (or apricots, or dates) and stick them into the bowl too. After that peel, core, and finely chop around 500g of Bramley apple (that's about 2), zest and juice 2 oranges and 2 Lemons, and measure out 120ml of booze. If you're using almonds a mix of brandy and amaretto is good, just brandy, or rum, or even whisky, according to preference all work.
Give everything a really good mix, cover the bowl and set it aside for 24 hours or so to let the flavours really mingle, giving it a good stir from time to time. Finally pot it into sterilised jars (makes around 8 good sized jam jars), and leave it somewhere to mature for a few weeks, by which time it will be mince pie time.