December 25th, 2015 dawned much as every summer day does, but two things were different. First, it was Christmas day, so there was no alarm clock, and there was a great deal to do. Some of it, including the baking of Christmas mince pies and shortbread, should have happened on Christmas Eve.
Secondly, Pearli had suddenly grown up; she seemed to have become quite sedate; hunting less and not getting into so much trouble, spending much of her day curled up, asleep – like a proper cat.
Or so we thought.
As we were having our morning tea before facing the day, a thundercat hurtled up the stairs. It definitely wasn’t Melon. It had to be Pearli. The “footprints” told us so. Sure enough, Pearli presented us with a Christmas present – the first catch for a very long time (as far as we are aware) – a real, live mouse. Needless to say, having to deal with that levitated us into the final Christmas dinner preparations.
Finally, the mince pies.
For the uninitiated, these are sweet tarts with a spiced fruit mince that is made from, predominantly raisins, currents and fruit peel. They are traditional Christmas confectionary and the chain stores are filled with them. Talk radio stations have phone-in shows and debate which store’s is better. Seriously.
The first effort and was more than thirty years ago. I was living in Johannesburg and had nowhere to go, and had been invited by a lovely family to join them for Christmas lunch. Not one to go empty handed, I offered to bring the mince pies.
Clearly my penchant for eschewing the store-bought is ingrained because I decided to make them. It didn’t enter my head to do a practice run. Anyhow, in making this decision, I also decided that I would not use my mother’s pastry recipe: her pastry was made with lard and I always thought that it was too thick. Particularly for dainty mince pies. For the life of me, I cannot recall what pastry recipe I used (It may have been a hot water one), but I do recall that I rolled it very thin and I ended up making what became known as the “Million Mince Pies”. Notwithstanding the fact that they were eaten and enjoyed, for the following year or so, I was enjoined to limit the number! Too much of a good thing, and all that jazz….
So, although there are recipes for fruit mince, it is something I do not make. Why? Well, some of it has to do with getting my act together and getting things done ahead of time, and when it comes to Christmas, I’m not very good at that. The planning starts on 15 December, if I’m lucky, but usually nearer 18th or 20th and the mince needs to be made at least two weeks in advance. Anyway, from a jar, it’s more than acceptable and I can “doctor” it to make it my “own”, without breaking the bank. More importantly, the individual ingredients are jolly (!) expensive and it would be false economy to make it.
Or so I thought: Mr Mac, one of the village foodies, a former Michelin-rated restaurant owner and hotelier (in Scotland) and a Scot, has just lent me a fabulous recipe book, written by a friend of his. It contains a great mincemeat recipe. I am now resolved to make fruit mince this winter, in preparation for next Christmas, as well as some other fabulous Sweet Things….
Back to the mince pies: unlike when I make quiche for supper, or to order, at Christmas, I make pastry.
I have no idea where I got this recipe, but reading it, it must have been part of a promotion in a magazine, and for a particular brand of flour.
The first time I used this recipe, it was not for Christmas, but for a lunch party, part of which involved my “creating” recipes for friend’s aloe-based food range.
The jam tart was a hit, particularly the pastry. When Christmas came along that year, I decided to use the recipe for the mince pies, but instead of making one large tart, I decided to do individual ones as well. That was about six years ago, and I still do it.
Tips, not in the recipe, or in my handwritten notes:
- butter (I never use margarine*); the oil is canola
- use a food processor and if you have one that has different sized bowls, use the medium sized one
- instead of rolling the pastry for the individual pies, break off and press bits of the pastry into the baking tin (a shallow muffin tin); I do this for the larger tart, too. This pastry, because of the quantity of fat/oil, is difficult to work with, especially in our summer heat, so “finger pressing” is easier than rolling and much less frustrating….
- put the pastry that is reserved for the “lids” into the deep freeze while you’re lining the pie dish or pan. This will make it easier to grate and work with when you’re ready
As I mentioned, I use store-bought fruit mince, and to this, I have added the apple suggested in this recipe, but I’ve also left it out: it wasn’t missed. What I always add is brandy – a good glug – and probably more than the 25ml the recipe talks about. I used to add a sprinkling of granulated sugar, but I’ve stopped doing that – it makes little if any difference.
A White Christmas
So, mince pies and shortbread done, it was time to “dress” the table. This year, it was a “white” Christmas with touches of red, including in the starter**, and the closest we get to a white Christmas in Africa (and, I gather, in most of the world, this year).
The meal concluded with the usual shortbread and mince pies. One of our guests, amazed that I make my own, declared that the mince pies were better than those from one of the premium stores. It has to be the pastry!
And about that mouse –
We have no idea what happened to Pearli’s gift: by the time we had propelled ourselves out of the bedroom, both Pearli and mouse had disappeared.
*of course if, for dietary reasons, you can’t use dairy, margarine is more than acceptable
**those salad days are still to come…
© Fiona’s Favourites 2016