Generally speaking summer hasn’t even finished in the UK before hotels, pubs, supermarkets and department stores start to pummel the consumer with the message of Christmas.  In the two or three years prior to our leaving Edinburgh for Catalunya I recall the Holiday Inn hotel on Queensferry Road flaunting a large banner as early as August emblazoned with the message ‘Book your Christmas Party  Now!’  and within a month you could walk into Jenners on Princess Street to find Christmas merchandise for sale.  Meanwhile, Supermarkets the arch merchants of marketing guile would trumpet the start of the festive season at about the same time by placing Christmas puddings and Mince Pies on the shelves, doubtless just a few aisles away from the ‘Back to School’ offerings and all things autumnal.  Personally, I remember my heart sinking at the sight of such blatant commercialism and had I been The Chancellor of the Exchquer I would have imposed a Scrouge like ‘Christmas Tax’ for anyone selling Christmas items before November!  But coming from a country where a surge in consumer spending is hailed as an economic blessing one could expect little else.

Thankfully the plus side of all this is that I can truly say that my family never bought a supermarket Christmas pudding, cake or mince pie.  The historical context of eating such goodies has largely been lost.  Exotic, complex, spicy morsels that transported an ancient global trade of nuts, fruit and spices from around an as yet little known world beyond Europe to your olfactory glands and mouth. Festivals and their associated feasts helped to break the dark, cold misery of the medieval British winter and bring cheer to the households, probably of the more comfortably off.

And so it is at La Rectoria, Goretti and I make all things foodie for Christmas – sweets, puddings, cakes and the never to be underestimated ‘Mince Pie’.  Goretti generally makes the mince pie filling weeks in advance.  This year’s batch was actually made some two years ago!!  It’s bloody fantastic.  The recipe is adapted from ‘Sensational Preserves’ by Hilaire Walden and the pastry recipe comes by way of one of my sisters.  Oh, there is one ingredient that is not readily available in this part of Spain – Suet.  I use beef suet, but you can buy vegetable suet depending on your disposition.  Beef suet is simply dehydrated beef fat and as the packet says suet is made up of 85% beef suet.  You can purchase it in ‘A Taste of Home’ (Carrer de Floridablanca 78, Barcelona).  Anyway, here goes.

Almond & Whisky Mincemeat (pie filling)

  • 115g chopped almonds
  • 350g cooking apples, peeled and finely chopped
  • 200g raisins
  • 115g dried apricots, finely chopped
  • 75g each of stoned dates and dried figs finely chopped
  • 150g sultanas
  • 1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 175g shredded beef or vegetable suet
  • 115 g dark soft brown sugar
  • finely grated zest of juice of 2 oranges and 1 lemon
  • 300ml whisky

Mix together all of the above ingredients cover and leave in a cool place for 24 hours stirring occasionally.  Pack the mincemeat firmly into sterlised clean jars expelling any air present.  Cover and seal the jars and leave ideally in a cool dark place for 6-8 weeks prior to using.

Mince Pie Pastry

  • 275g plain flour
  • 25g ground almonds
  • 175g diced butter
  • 75g icing sugar
  • grated rind of 1/2 orange
  • 3-4 tablespoons of orange juice
  • 1 egg yolk

Sieve the flour and almonds into a bowl and then rub in the butter until the mix resembles fine breadcrumbs.  Stir in the sugar and orange rind.  Mix the egg yolk with the orange juice and gradually stir this into the mixture to make a soft dough.  Knead until smooth, wrap in cling film and leave to chill for half an hour.

To make the pies you will either need a pie tin, alternatively we use a silicon tray for petit fours as this makes an ideal size of pie to serve with coffee after lunch or dinner.  Roll the pastry out to about 2mm thick and cut into disks the size required to fit your tin.  Place the first piece of pastry in the tin and place the mince meat on top of this and moisten the edges of the pastry to ensure a good seal to the pies.   Then take a second piece of pastry over the mince pie mix and carefully seal the pies.  The pies can be frozen prior to baking and cooked as and when required. Lightly beat an egg with a little water and brush the tops of the finished pies.  Bake at 18o·c for about 15minutes or until golden brown.  The smell of the cooked pies is pure Christmas!