The Brits are crazy for them. They’re good luck for making a wish over the first pie of the season, and one for each of the 12 days of Christmas.
I didn’t grow up with mincemeat, but it was a favorite for an aunt—something old fashioned and just plain strange to a 10-year-old.
It wasn’t until later, through my in-laws, prolific berry pickers, jam makers and canners of all things, that I was introduced to mincemeat made from green tomatoes – something unexpected, even if I did grow up making green tomato pickles with my mom.
From the first bite, it became my favorite of favorites. Sweet and tangy apples, green tomatoes, raisins and spices, full-sized slices of pie served with a dollop of whipped cream. And no, it wouldn’t even cross your mind that you were eating tomatoes.
Over the years we’ve made many versions, including with meat and suet — not as odd as you might guess, think meat pies with chutney, but it’s my husband’s purely vegetarian version that I like the best. It’s a riff on a 1977 classic, Rodale Stocking Up, but with bourbon and much more cider vinegar.
We ask a local farm to put aside a bushel of green tomatoes at the end of the season and then get to canning. For the holidays, we amend the canned base with more bourbon and freshly diced apples. It’s a pie that never fails to convince even the most ardent sceptic.
But you can just buy a jar at the store (we recommend Tip Tree).
The nicest thing about this recipe is that it offers a delightful bite that can be made ahead, frozen, and popped in the oven for an instant holiday sweet.
After you’ve eaten 12 of these “starter” pies, I guarantee you’ll want to bake a full pie for Thanksgiving or Christmas.
(Adapted from Nigella Lawson)
2 ¼ inch miniature tart tins
2 ½ inch fluted, round biscuit cutter
1¾ inch star cutter
For the Pastry
1⅔ cups all-purpose flour
5 tablespoons vegetable shortening
½ stick cold butter, diced
Juice of 1 orange, about ¼ to ⅓ cup
1 pinch of salt
For the Filling
2 cups mincemeat
You can make your mincemeat well in advance. If you are using store bought, you can cook it down with some diced fresh apples and add vinegar and bourbon to taste.
Confectioners’ sugar (for dusting)
When you are ready to bake, set out a baking sheet with your tart tins. Little muffin pans would work as well.
Measure out the flour into a freezer proof bowl, and with a teaspoon, scoop little mounds of vegetable shortening into the bowl, add the cold butter. Give it a good shake to combine and put in the freezer for 20 minutes. The freezing keeps the butter from combining too well with the flour, creating air pockets of steam that will puff up as it bakes and make the pastry flaky and tender.
Mix the orange juice and salt in a cup, cover and put in the fridge to chill.
After 20 minutes, empty the flour and fat into the bowl of your food processor and blitz until you’ve got a pale pile of oatmeal-like crumbs. Pour the salted orange juice down the feed tube, pulsing until it looks as if the dough is about to come together; you want to stop just before it does (even if some juice is left). If all your juice is used up and you need more liquid, add some iced water.
Turn the mixture out of the processor or mixing bowl onto a pastry board or work surface and, using your hands, combine to a dough. I sometimes pour it into a plastic bag to knead. Then form into 3 discs (you’ll need to make these in 3 batches, unless you’ve got enough tart tins to make all 36 pies at once). Wrap each disc in plastic wrap and put in the fridge to rest for 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 425ºF.
Roll out the discs, one at a time, as thinly as you can. You want it to be able to stand up to the mincemeat but still be delicate. About an 1/8 inch. It’s easy-going dough and you can patch a hole if need be.
Cut out your circles a little wider than the tart tins; and press gently into the tins. Fill with a teaspoon or so of mincemeat.
Then cut out your little stars, re-rolling the pastry as necessary and place them lightly on top of each pie.
Bake for 10–15 minutes: They can brown up quickly, so keep a watch on them.
Remove from the oven and pop them out with the tip of a paring knife onto a wire rack right away. Let the empty tin cool down before you start putting in the pastry for the next batch.
After cooling, give a dusting of confectioners’ sugar by tapping it through it through a tea strainer.
You can make the mince pies up to 1 week ahead. Let them cool and store in an airtight container layered up between sheets of wax paper. Reheat in a warm oven for 3-4 minutes and dust with confectioners’ sugar.
You can also freeze them for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight on a cooling rack and reheat as above.
Next Year’s Green Tomato Mincemeat
6 cups green tomatoes, large dice
6 cups apples, large dice
1/2-pound seedless raisins
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
1 tablespoon grated orange rind
1 1/2 cups honey
1/2 cup vinegar
1 cup bourbon
1/4 cup lemon juice in 1/4 cup water
1/2 tablespoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon mixed allspice and cloves
Combine everything and bring to a boil in a large enamel or stainless-steel pot. Reduce the heat and simmer for 2 or 3 hours and stirring frequently to prevent scorching.
Pour into hot pint jars, allowing 1-inch space at the top, and process by your preferred method. We sterilize our jars and cook them in a hot water bath.
Yield: 3 to 4 pints