No, I’m not talking about the meaning of Christmas. That’s another post and it’s sure to be many things to many people. What I’m talking about is those sights, sounds, smells and tastes that forever signal Christmas to you. What makes you realise with childish delight that it’s Christmas once again? Is it the shops decked out in gaudy finery? The sounds of Boney M blasting another faded Christmas hit over the supermarket sound system? I can hear you cringe as I mention these things! Your mother’s Christmas cake? Ah, now we’re getting closer. We all remember those special things from our childhoods or our adulthoods – Aunt Mary’s tipsy pudding, Mom’s Christmas biscuits, special chocolates in delightful packaging.
For me, since I’ve been living in Italy, it’s the appearance of panettone, brightly lit shops on dark, winter evenings, my neighbours placing their flashy Christmas tree in the window so that “everyone in the street can see it”, Christmas craft markets every weekend in December, and mulled wine on crisp, cold evenings.
For Mr. B it’s Christmas mince pies, which is quite strange as they’re not an Italian speciality. I guess it’s a result of growing up in sunny South Africa where mince pies appear in early November, so that you’re tired of them by the time Christmas day rolls around. Anyway, he’s always loved anything containing raisins, so it was a given. When we moved to Italy, we discovered that mince pies no longer existed. No-one had ever heard of them, and the only Christmas speciality we were offered was panettone – in abundance. I love panettone, so it wasn’t really a hardship to try the various flavours on offer, especially the non-traditional one with chocolate chips – delicious! Mr. B, however, still hankered after his favourite Christmas treat, so I decided to try out a recipe I had.
Problem: You don’t just walk into the supermarket and buy a bottle of fruit mince mix. So back to the trusty cookbook I went, and this is the recipe that has resulted. It also makes a lovely gift for a friend with a recipe for the mince pies attached.
Fruit Mincemeat Filling
Ingredients: 500g mixed dried fruit, finely chopped. I use a mix of raisins, sultanas and cranberries.
120g apple, peeled, cored and grated. I use a local tart cooking apple
120g mixed peel, finely chopped. I use citron and orange bought from a local specialist shop.
120g shredded suet or margarine, melted. I confess to being too scared to use the suet, but margarine seems to work just fine.
120g blanched almonds, finely chopped.
finely grated rind and juice of 1 large lemon.
50 ml brandy or rum. I used brandy.
5ml (1 teaspoon) mixed spice. This is one of the few things I buy in South Africa when I’m on holiday. You just don’t find it in Italy.
2ml (half a teaspoon) ground cinnamon
2ml (half a teaspoon) grated nutmeg.
Combine all ingredients thoroughly in a large bowl.
Place in dry jars, seal and store in a cool, dry place. Leave for a few days before using to allow the flavours to mature. Use as a filling for Christmas mince pies or as a topping for mince slices.
What is the essence of Christmas for you? Please share your thoughts with us.