The first thing everyone asks when they hear the word ‘mincemeat’ is does it have meat in it? Kinda…
Kids growing up in the UK and Canada (maybe other British Commonwealth Countries… I don’t know for sure) ate mincemeat tarts around Christmas. In the old timey days of yore, these pies allegedly had beef or pork in them. I don’t think it was ground chuck, I think it was suet. If that is the case, the formula really hasn’t changed. Mincemeat is a mixture of fruit, candied peel, spices, rum or brandy if you are lucky and suet. Suet is hard fat of beef, pork or mutton. Don’t say ewww. If you are not vegetarian you likely eat bacon fat, butter, schmaltz, lard, honestly the list goes on. Suet is just another animal fat.
I thought about making the mincemeat from scratch. The work involved turned me off. Suet is a special order butcher item around here. The cooking of the fruit is more than I am interested in when I can buy the most delicious jar of mincemeat in the baking aisle at Sobey’s. In my experience, E.D Smith makes the best and they have been doing it since 1878. I think they know what they are doing.
My great grandma would use mincemeat and add apple sauce and a splash of brandy or rum to the jar so it would go farther and make it not as strong. Mincemeat can be a strong spicy flavour. I like it, but it can be a bit much for others. When I say strong – I don’t mean chili hot, I mean cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and nutmeg. Mixed with the stewed fruit, I think it is delicious!
I used my grandmother’s pie crust recipe from her butter tarts. I cut 24 ’rounds’ (still don’t have a circle cutter) and 24 tiny rounds for the top crust. I used a pipping tip for that.
Snugged them into muffin tins.
and used a 1 1/2″ cookie scoop to evenly fill the shells. I had about a 1/4 cup left over. I will use this in a pumpkin loaf or muffin recipe this week.
I popped on the cute little tops and baked them at 400F for 16 minutes.
My house smells amazing.
I only used half the pie crust recipe. I may make pumpkin tarts or maybe more mincemeat tarts in the future depending if the hubs eats them all before Christmas gift giving. I wrapped the pie dough well and placed in a ziplock bag for the freezer. I squared it off for tarts. If I was making pie crust I would have shaped it into a circle for easier rolling. When I go to use this in the future (before six months) I will thaw overnight in the fridge.
You can absolutely use premade tart shells for the easiest tarts on the planet. You do you. There is something special for me when I am using a recipe my little gram used. I like the connection to her.
I had a boyfriend once who called me honey. We were casually dating and called each other normal names then boom, he called me honey and I felt weird about it. It was as if that was the name he used for his wife. Turns out I was right.
Honey was a favourite food of my son. Part of that had to do with his relationship with Winnie the Pooh. If honey was good enough for Pooh Bear, then honey was good enough for him. Plus eating local honey has the added benefit of building up your immune system to ward against hay fever.
I love honey. I especially love local honey. So much so that I think I want to become an urban beekeeper. Save the bees, eat local honey and grow an amazing garden. All things I think I want for me. Or at the very least it is a romanticized version of what I want for me.
Disneyland had this great popcorn cart over in Pooh Corner. They served honey popcorn. The smell was amazing. Warm honey gives off a pleasant sweet fragrance that has a blend of clover mixed in. The popcorn was a crisp and sweet blend of honey caramel. I loved it. It was one of my favourite treats available at the park until it was gone. Now they appear to have just a plain popcorn cart, but it has been years since I have darkened the doorstep of any Disney Park, but I like to do little things that remind me of great vacations past.
After I first tried the honey popcorn at Pooh Corner, I went home to try to recreate it. It took me several attempts but I finally got the proportions right. It has become my signature recipe that I make only once a year. Usually, my mom makes the popcorn for me and I do the rest. Making popcorn is not something I am good at but I figured out another way to do it while she is in Ireland. Here is my Honey popcorn the way Pooh Bear likes it. Don’t blame me if you have a sudden urge to play Pooh Sticks or search for Heffalumps and Woozles. Eat at your own risk.
Robyn’s Pooh Corner inspired Honey Popcorn
4 qt popped popcorn (I use Orville’s microwave with butter and salt)
1 cup nuts (almonds and pecans are what I prefer but anything will work)
1/2 cup salted butter
1 cup light brown sugar (I have used dark brown but light gives a better colour)
1/4 cup of honey (local clover honey not creamed – regular drippy honey)
1 tsp pure vanilla (the best you can get your hands on. The Barefoot Contessa is correct)
Pop your popcorn and place it in a prepared roaster. I spray it with pam but if you don’t so that, grease it or you will be frustrated when its time to stir the popcorn. Sprinkle nuts over the top of the popcorn.
In a heavy bottom saucepan, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add sugar and honey. Stir consistently until it comes to a gentle boil. Turn heat down to medium and let it gently boil for 5 minutes without stirring. You do not want the sugar to become grainy – so leave it alone! After 5 minutes, remove from heat and add vanilla. It will bubble up and appear angry. Beware. Then give it a stir to incorporate the vanilla throughout.
Pour over popcorn and nuts, stir until well coated. Bake at 250 F for 1 hour. This is the secret to the perfect texture. Skipping this step makes the popcorn soggy and gooey. Every 15 minutes, remove from oven and stir. The honey caramel settles to the bottom and you want it to coat the popcorn evenly. Cover your counter with parchment paper. Once the popcorn is done (one hour in the oven!!!) turn it out on the parchment to cool. This prevents it from sticking to the pan. Soak the pan in water for easy cleanup.
Variations: I have substituted pure maple syrup for the honey. Maple popcorn is decedent. It is expensive but so good.
Apparently, I am not the only person in the world who loved to eat their Christmas baking directly from the freezer. I wrote about eating my shortbread that way and I received so many emails and messages telling me I wasn’t alone. I guess its a thing, here in Canada anyway.
One gal told me how her mom kept all their Christmas baking in a box on the porch. That’s the thing about Canada, you don’t have a shortage of freezer space at Christmas time. My family has stored food in the trunk of the car, in a cooler on the deck, in the unheated garage and believe it or not, an actual freezer.
When my dad and his four siblings lived on Evergreen Street, there was a bedroom in the basement. My dad shared it with his brother and when they moved out, my two aunts moved into that room. I remember that room because I had sleep-overs in there. Outside that room was a 1960’s style rec room complete with bar stools and a pool table. Behind the bar area by the stairs was a storage room with a freezer. This was easily accessible to the bedroom. Midnight trips to the freezer we common because that is where grandma stored her baking.
Fast forward to my childhood.
My brother and I lived in our basement on Georgian Way. We had a 1970’s style ‘rumpus room’. It was aptly named because a lot of rumpusing occurred in that room. We watched cable tv, played intelevision and atari, build forts and goofed around on the piano. We didn’t have a bar but we did have a fireplace. I never remember sitting on the sofa to watch tv, we would stack cushions on the floor so we could recline and snuggle under blankets as we watched Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Women, or Charlies Angels and sneak in a little Soap after everyone went to bed. It was as if we had our own apartment with mom, dad and our sister living upstairs.
At Christmas time our freezer would be stocked with Christmas baking for parties. Dad would often have his fellow teachers over for a Christmas party, we would invite Santa over for a family party and we always had Christmas brunch where everyone we knew would come for breakfast. After all the savoury food was consumed the baking would come ut on three-tiered cake plates for dessert service. Provided my brother and I had left any in the freezer.
Here’s the thing. Imagine a gripping game of Frogger, Donkey Kong or Galactica late on a Friday night when suddenly you are hungry. The ‘hangry’ kind of hunger that needs to be satisfied so you can beat your little weasel of a brother who will cheat as soon as the opportunity arises. Anger bubbles up with such intensity that food is the only thing that will sooth that beast. Its a thing, the Snicker’s commercial proves it.
Luckily, the deep freezer chest was located in the next room beside the laundry. It was deep. When we were small I would hold my brother’s legs so he could reach the bottom. As we grew taller, I could bend at the waist with my feet dangling so I could reach those Tupperware containers that were located on the bottom, hidden under roasts and loaves of bread in an effort to conceal the baking intended for guests.
I could always find the Butter Tart or Shortbread.
The secret to not getting in trouble immediately was to leave evidence that made the containers appear full. For example, the layers of wax paper that separated the cookies were never removed. That way when you opened the container to take a peek, it appeared as if the cookies were still on the bottom. With the butter tarts it was even easier, leave the foil tins in the container and none would be the wiser…until it was party day.
Mom would ask dad to bring the containers upstairs to the kitchen. He would leave stacks of containers on the counter. Mom had been busy all fall building up the reserves. Anything with coconut or cherries would still be there because … ew. The butter tarts and cookies were not. just empty packages. This is when mom would
My brother and I were always accused of the crime. He would deny it and she would believe him. I got the blame. To be fair, I was the mastermind behind the cookie caper, and likely did eat the majority of the baking but he often got away with things because he was an expert level liar. As soon as his back was turned and mom couldn’t see him, he would smile at me and stick his tongue out. A sure sign that he was lying to her and mocking me at the same time.
Until recently I assumed everyone ate butter tarts and no one ate frozen baking. I had no idea butter tarts were a Canadian thing. I did a little research on the confection and some regions put milk or cream in the recipe. All I can say is you are wrong. That is not the way to make them. My dad says a good butter tart must drip on your chin while eating it. I agree. That is the way to do it. I feel so strongly about this, I will share with you my family recipe. Do not put the following in your recipe and say it came from me. These ingredients are WRONG and belong in some other recipe I do not have to eat.
Coconut – just don’t
Raisins – my daughter says it’s like eating old people, save a senior and keep raisins out.
Currents/cranberries/fruit in general
Nuts – especially walnuts. WRONG
Butter Tarts are syrupy and gooey. The better the pastry the better the tart. Here you go:
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cold butter cubed
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vinegar
In a large bowl, whisk flour with salt. With pastry blender or your fingers, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs with a few larger pieces.
In a separate bowl – I use my pyrex measuring cup – whisk egg yolk with vinegar; add enough ice water to make 1/3 cup (75 mL). Sprinkle over flour mixture, stirring briskly with a fork until pastry holds together. Press into disc; wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, about 1 hour. Remove from fridge and let it come to room temperature. Roll very thin, like 1/8″ – this prevents pastry folds in your in and you can get more filling in the tart – and cut with a 4″ glass, can or cookie cutter. My grandma used an empty tomato tin, I have a cookie cutter. $1.25 and lasts forever. This makes 12, place in a muffin tin or tart tin.
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
2 tablespoons butter softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon vinegar
1 pinch salt
1/4 cup currants
1/4 cup raisin
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup shredded coconut
In a bowl, whisk together brown sugar, corn syrup, egg, butter, vanilla, vinegar and salt until blended. Pour the filling into a measuring cup with a spout or scoop with an ice cream scoop into the tart shells. Back at 450F for about 12 minutes. I always place my tarts on a cookie sheet that has been pre-heating in the oven. This ensures the pastry is fully cooked on the bottom because no one wants to eat raw pastry dough, ask Mary Berry or Martha Stewart.
Send one to my dad and you can eat the rest. I recommend freezing them because they will taste like my childhood. Or eat them they way my kids do, straight from the oven because it tastes like their childhood.
A long time ago, perhaps only last year, I could take on more than humanly possible. I think it was genetic or stupid…without a substantial research grant, I will not be able to quantify the data. Let’s call it genetic, shall we?
When I was little, around 10ish, I was finally old enough to be a real help in the kitchen. One of my mom’s hobbies was cooking. When I say cook, I am not talking your run of the mill meat loaf or casserole. My mom was a Julia Childs fan in a BIG WAY. She watched Julia on cooking shows and Graham Kerr the Galloping Gourmet when ever she was home and could catch it on. These were the days before VCRs and my mom worked full time.
I would come home from school, call my mom and she would give me instructions on how to start dinner. She was very good at giving step by step instructions so I could visualize them in my head. Eventually, all of us kids learned to cook via the phone method and we would take turns preparing meals, all of us but dad. He was the official taste tester. It was his job to tell us “it was the best thing he every tasted” whether it was or not. I honestly believe that is why we all are better cooks than we use to be. He gave us the confidence to try new things. Even if it tasted like dog food, my dad would eat it and say it was the best ever!
Every year around the Grey Cup (Canada’s Superbowl…not really but it whatever) Mom would have finalized her Christmas Baking list and purchased all the supplies she needed. We would then get to work. By dinner time, the house would be filled with hundreds of cookies, squares, tarts and candy. The idea was, if you are making a mess in the kitchen, go big or go home. It was fun. Sometimes my grandma and aunt would come over and it would be a girls day baking. Those were fun times! I had kept up that tradition until this year.
Today I had the intention of baking several different batches of cookies and several buckets full of various flavoured candy popcorn. The result?
I made it as far as two batches of cookies and think “Who the hell is going to clean up this mess?” I am knackered.
Lemon Crinkles and Chocolate chip cookies made the cut. Ginger Sparklers and Short Bread may or may not get done this year. I am pretty sure tarts are out of the question. I did manage to whiz up the candy canes in the food processor for peppermint dust on the chocolate covered popcorn. But that is the extent of my ambition. Oh, and I made tea.