Mincemeat was an obsession that my mother developed as she prepared for the holidays. In this she was tutored by a neighbor and fellow church member Myrtle Overstreet. Mrs. Overstreet had the secret recipe for mincemeat that was passed down through several generations, and she kept it in the bank under lock and key. When she saw that her days were numbered, and having no qualified children, she considered all her coworkers at the church for the person to entrust with this precious recipe, and she awarded the responsibility to my mother. In order to qualify she had to be trustworthy, a perfectionist as close to herself as possible, an excellent cook, and attentive to the slightest details of the recipe.
Mincemeat does not please everyone, but no one can argue with the goodness of the ingredients. One begins with the best and rarest beef one can find (neck meat), Jonathan apples, raisins and muscat raisins, cinnamon and cloves, unsweetened pineapple juice and grape juice and apple cider and apple cider vinegar, white and brown sugar, and raw suet. Driving for miles just to find the best ingredients was mandatory. It consumed many hours of my parents’ time, since mother involved father in the project when it came to the regional search for ingredients. Everything had to be coordinated so that the ingredients were as fresh as possible, so that October was the month of search, in between the days of harvest on the farm.
The recipe made 10 gallons of mincemeat, and it stipulates that no more than two batches should be prepared in one day, and those should be mixed in the afternoon. The preparations began the day before in the morning when all sugar, raisins, currants, cider and 1 can of pineapple juice were put to soak, then refrigerated by nightfall. Next morning the suet and two half-gallons of grape juice were added when the whole mixture was set out to reach room temperature by noon. Also in the morning the 16 pounds of beef neck meat was cooked and then ground. Then it was mixed with a gallon of cider, 2 tall cans of unsweetened pineapple juice, 2 to 3 jars of Welch’s grape juice, and 2 ½ gallons of Krafts’ canned grape drink. The apples were peeled and chopped fine, and the spices, and the rest of the juice and vinegar were added and thoroughly mixed. (Since this involved nearly seventy five pounds of ingredients, did anyone require any extra exercise?) The whole mixture was put into as many jars or freezer containers as needed, by pints and quarts, and sealed, either by the usual canning process or by freezing in double-sacked containers. (A more detailed ingredient list is available.)
The mincemeat mixture is added to various recipes or pie shells and baked when people are ready to use it. The shelf life of this mixture is unknown. The last stock that my mother made was twenty years old when we ate the last of it, using one or two quarts a year, and we did not notice any lessening of the quality. You may note that a limited amount of fermentation occurs in the original process.
After Mrs. Overstreet’s death, and a discreet waiting period of a couple of years, mother printed the recipe and instructions for anyone who was interested, and distributed it freely. Whether Mrs. Overstreet turned over in her grave or not has not been determined. Anyway the secret is out, although I’m not certain that anyone can follow it. How many recipes for life experience have such a history?