Calm down, Brits: mincemeat pie does have meat sometimes

A slice of mincemeat cheesecake pie made by Maine food historian Sandy Oliver. | Photo by Sandy Oliver

Another day, another Internet kerfuffle: on Monday, U.S.-based food website The Spruce posted a recipe for a mincemeat and apple tart as a delicious, traditional holiday treat. The original recipe, published in August by British food writer Elaine Lemm, called for nine ounces of homemade or store-bought mincemeat, a mixture usually of currants, raisins, sugar, apples, candied citrus peel, spices, and suet, typically baked in a pie. 

For this holiday re-publish, though, the photographer confused “mincemeat” with “minced meat” and charmingly staged peeled apples, dough….and a bowl of ground beef, eventually piled (unseasoned, mind you) into the pie crust in subsequent steps. 

The media was aghast. Twitter was a-storm. #Mincegate had taken over our Monday social media feeds. 

It was an honest, understandable mistake. “Mincemeat” refers to a sweet, preserved mixture of currants, raisins, sugar, apples, citrus, spices and some sort of fat or shortening, but “mince” is another term for chopping meat up into small pieces. To add to the confusion, speakers of British English will often refer to ground meat as “mince.” 

Still, in swift response to the blowback, the Spruce updated its infamous recipe later that day to read: “Mincemeat and Apple Tart — Now Meat Free!!”

But to the Brits that took to Twitter to proclaim the inclusion of ground meat “disgusting,” check yourselves: traditional mincemeat does contain meat.

Mincemeat was developed in England centuries ago as a way of preserving meat — particularly tough cuts — after the autumnal butchering without having to salt or smoke it. Finely chopped beef, suet (the raw, hard fat found around kidneys and loins) and even beef tongue were packed into crocks, kept in a cold place and scooped into pies for the holidays.

According to Sandy Oliver, food historian and writer for the Bangor Daily News, the meat of choice in Maine was venison neck meat, fresh from the fall deer hunt. Throughout the 20th century, Mainers canned mincemeat to eat throughout the winter. 

Now, commercial mincemeat generally foregoes meat altogether, even replacing suet in favor of vegetable shortening. In 2011, Oliver decried the change in her Bangor Daily News blog.

Now, we’re not endorsing The Spruce’s apple and ground beef tart, by any means. For starters, the meat they used was unseasoned, whereas mincemeat is often thoroughly and deliciously sweetened with cut fruit and currants, as well as spiced with nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves. At best, the pie will probably be bland.

Eric Handelsman, Spruce Eats’ vice president and general manager, told Buzzfeed News that the office was going to bake the tart with the ground beef “and all try it.” We wish the writers at The Spruce the best of luck. 

Mincemeat smells like Thanksgiving and Christmas together, spicy, rich, and redolent of the holidays. Make it now and by the holidays all the flavors will have had time to meld and mellow out, ready for this lovely Minnie’s Mincemeat Cake. | Photo by Sandy Oliver

For the rest of you, we encourage you to check out this recipe for Minnie’s Mincemeat Cake, or even this twist on the traditional dish in this recipe for Cheesecake Mincemeat Pie. They can be prepared with store-bought, meatless mincemeat, but you can also make your own using Oliver’s recipe with suet and lean beef or venison. A recent story with reader favorite deer meat recipes also contained a meaty venison mincemeat recipe as well.

1 comment
  1. SCOTT HUBER says

    Around here mincemeat is made with venison.

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