In the lead-up to Christmas when I was a little girl we knew the big day was close when in the evening we would be dressed in our nighties and sitting in the family room doing puzzles or colouring-in when we’d hear the sound of carols coming from a big brass band. We would run outside and there would be a flat-bed truck moving extremely slowly along the street and on the back of the truck would be the Salvation Army Band playing and singing Christmas Carols. We would be so excited just standing there in our nighties and listening to the carolers and it was such an enviable sight it did make me wish to be a Salvation Army member when I grew up – if only for the once a year opportunity to stand on a flat-bed truck as it was being driven along as I belted out some tunes.
Someone would jump out of the truck and go from door to door asking for a donation but I don’t think he had to go further than the footpath because all the residents would have left their homes to stand on the street and join in with the caroling, donation in hand. It was the most fantastic unexpected surprise and gave us an opportunity to ignore everything we were doing to enjoy a few moments of unexpected entertainment.
Besides entertainment, Christmas meant baking and in the lead-up to Christmas my mother had many handed-down recipes she liked to prepare for the big day. One special recipe was her mince pies. She said the secret to a good mince pie is the pastry. These mince pies were served on Christmas Eve, two to a serve, warmed from the oven, dusted with icing sugar and topped with a dollop of cream or ice cream.
Two of the best of the pies were reserved on a special plate for Santa. These were put on a small plate and left on a side table close to the fireplace with a bottle of ginger ale to wash them down. They must have been good because Santa always left nothing but a few crumbs. And we know he appreciated the pies more than the ginger ale because while the pies were all gobbled up, Santa only managed a few sips of the beverage; maybe because it had gone warm.
But Santa aside, this recipe will make mince pies that all your guests will enjoy. The pastry is extremely buttery, flaky, light and melt-in-the-mouth and goes so well with the sweetness of the fruit mince.
I’m carrying on the family tradition by making these and combining them with carols. Tomorrow night I’m going to Carols by Candlelight and I’m taking the mince pies in my picnic basket.
Mum’s Christmas Mince Pies
Degree of Difficulty: 3/5
Cost: Not a lot really, for 24 pies and often you might have the dried fruit already in your pantry waiting to be used.
- 25og suet (Suet is the fat from around the kidneys and although once easily sourced it is now impossible to find. A substitute is vegetable shortening but despite wearing the soles off my shoes in search of the shortening I couldn’t find that either. I used 125g of butter – just enough to bind the ingredients)
- 250g currants
- 250g raisins
- 250g sultanas
- 125g mixed peel
- 2 granny smith apples peeled and grated
- 2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
- 1 tspn mixed spice
- Grated rind 1 lemon
- 1/2 cup rum or brandy
Chop dried fruit and mix with other ingredients and melted butter by hand. Mix well. Pack into sterilised jars and seal with a lid. Will keep for a few months so this is something you can make well in advance of the Christmas rush.
For the Pastry:
- 1/2 lb (225g) butter
- 1/2 lb (225g) flour
- 1 tbspn vinegar
- Pinch cream of tartar
- 1 egg
Cut butter into flour then add rest of ingredients. Mix with knife. Put in fridge overnight.
Pre-heat oven to 180C (375F).
Grease two muffin tins.
Flour a board and roll pastry until a few millimetres thick. Use an 8cm cutter to make the base of the pies and a 7cm cutter to make the top of the pies.
Place the pastry bases into each of the muffin tins then spoon a tablespoon of mixture onto the pastry base then top with pastry.
Place in the oven for 10-15 minutes or until slightly golden. Allow to cool in tins before turning out onto a wire rack.
Serve warm with cream or ice cream.