I have a theory that from a certain age most people are difficult to buy surprise presents for. The emphasis is on surprise. I’m not talking about saying very loudly that you really admire those red Kitchen Aid mixers from ooh, about Jan 2nd onward and miraculously Santa appearing with one about 11.5 months later. That’s a wonderful present, but it’s engineered. You’ve worked for it. The present buyer spent a lot but didn’t have to think a lot. Be grateful, but not that grateful. You did the thinking.
I’m talking about the kind of surprise present the lucky soul didn’t even know they wanted until you actually gave it to them. As the present giver you should pat yourself on the back when this happens. As the present recipient you should take stock and thank your lucky stars for your creative friend/thoughtful family member. They’re keepers for sure.
Here’s a present most people don’t know they want or need. Then when they get it, they use it, then they hug you. Now in order for the lucky recepient to get a chance to use it, you need to gift it pre Xmas. So visit the lucky person, give them a jar or three and tell them to open it as soon as you’ve gone. Maybe even wrap up a nice baking tin to go with it. Now that would be a perfect present.
Quantity: Makes a truck load. Seriously. One huge 2100ml preserving jar plus a normal size jam jar. Or loads of small jars.
- 1kg sultanas (as these will be doused in spices and booze I buy the value range ones)
- 500g Bramley apples, peeled and chopped into 1cm cubes
- 250g dried apricots, cut into sultana sized pieces with scissors
- 130g glace cherries, cut into quarters with scissors
- 50g dried cranberries
- 150g flaked almonds
- 350g demerara sugar
- 150g light muscovado sugar
- 3 tsp all spice
- half of a whole nutmeg, freshly grated
- the juice and zest of 2 tangerines
- the juice and zest of 2 lemons
- 500g vegetable suet
- 200mls cherry brandy
- 100mls ginger wine (I used this)
This is a great recipe to get small people to help with as the hands on time is all about weighing, stirring and cutting with (toddler friendly) scissors. Before you start don’t forget you need some jars at the end of all this to put your mincemeat in. (You may laugh. I have made this mistake.)
Find a large bowl and check it fits in your oven. I’m talking a really big bowl. It needs to be oven proof too. I use a ceramic one but if you don’t have one a very large casserole dish would work just as well. Weigh out all the dried fruit and nuts into the bowl, then peel and chop your apples and add them too. Give the mixture a good stir. Add the sugars, spice and nutmeg. It really will make a difference if you use fresh nutmeg and grate yourself. Stir again. Add the juice and zest of the tangerines (the official smell of Christmas) and the lemons, being careful not to lose any lemon pips into the mixture. Stir again. Lastly, add the suet, stir again. Cover the mixture with clingfilm and leave overnight.
Preheat the oven to Gas 1/140C and place the bowl of mincemeat into the oven with the top covered in foil. Leave to slowly cook and baste for 3 hours. After this time carefully remove from the oven and give the contents a good stir to ensure all the fruit is covered in the fat from the suet. Sterilise your jars at this point (I use the dishwasher but you can use the old fashioned method of a good scrub with Fairy, a rinse in boiling water and drying out in a low oven for 30 minutes instead) and line them up.
Then when the mincemeat has cooled a little (bowl touchable warmth) add the brandy and the ginger wine. Be prepared for the alcohol to give off a certain amount of fumes. I stood a little too close and was nearly knocked out. Give the mixture a good stir then fill your jam jars up to the top. I use a skewer to poke the mincemeat down to ensure it fills up an air pockets. You could also use a knitting needle if you’re of the crafty variety. Don’t leave more than 1.5cm of a gap. Then pop the tops on and store in a cool and dark place for at least 4 weeks before you use it. It needs time to mature. Will keep for 6 months.
Ta da! The best surprise Christmas present.