What The Heck Is Mincemeat?

Learn the history behind this traditional holiday food and how to make it yourself with our easy-to-follow recipe!

Ever wonder how mincemeat got its funny name?  And what is it about this robust concoction of chopped dried fruit, distilled spirits or brandy, and pungent spices (and in past centuries it was made with beef, beef suet or venison) that makes avowed acolytes out of many, but sends some of us running for cover?!

So What is Mincemeat?

Historically, mincemeat was a way of preserving meat using sugar and alcohol without smoke or salt. The meat of choice tended to be mutton.

Records also tell us that cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and mace were added to late Medieval and Renaissance-era meat dishes, which may have been the precursor of sweet mincemeat as we know it. In the 11th century, members of the Crusades returning from the Holy Land brought back oriental spices.

Three of them: cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg were added to food to commemorate the gifts of the Magi. Mince pie, made with meat and spices, was prepared in a manger-shaped casing with an indentation for an edible baby Jesus to be placed on top. It was considered lucky to eat one of these pies on each of the 12 days of Christmas – ending with the Epiphany on January 6th.

In the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries, mincemeat was a mixture of fruit (prunes, raisins, dates) and finely diced meat, along with wines or vinegars. But by the 18th century, wine and vinegar were replaced mostly by brandy or other distilled spirits. In the mid- to late 18th century, sources say mincemeat was connected with a more rural palate, though the Victorians recast it as a refined Christmastime tradition.

Fast forward to modern times, particularly toward the mid-20th century, and meat was primarily gone from the recipe.

Commonly acceptable fruits included dried fruit, chopped apples, citrus peel, currants, citron, candied fruits, brandy, rum or another liqueur. Suet – which is kidney fat – was sometimes included and occasionally still is.

Try this variation on the traditional treat to sweeten your holidays or any day, and tempt those mincemeat maligners to the dessert table!

Mince pie - Empanada

New England Mincemeat Filling

4 from 1 vote
Course Dessert
Cuisine English


  • 2/3 cup apple cider (may substitute cranberry juice)
  • 2 cups whole cranberries, fresh or frozen
  • 1 cup raw cane sugar (or brown sugar)
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon, freshly ground if possible
  • 1/2 teaspoon both allspice and ginger
  • 1 cup currants
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 2 medium apples
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons brandy, port or maple whiskey
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons honey


  • In a large saucepan, warm the apple cider and dissolve sugar over low heat. Wash, core, and finely chop or grate apples.
  • Add the whole cranberries into the pot and stir to combine. Add cinnamon, ginger, and allspice, along with currants, raisins, dried cranberries, and apple.
  • Stir and simmer over medium-low heat until mixture starts to darken and has absorbed most of the liquid, about 20 minutes.
  • Stir occasionally. Remove from heat and add the brandy, port or whiskey, maple syrup, and honey. Beat well to incorporate everything and crush the cranberries slightly.
  • Spoon into sterilized jars and cover with lids. This will store in the refrigerator for several weeks.
  • May also be frozen for up to three months.
  • Simply use as you would any fruit pie filling to make pies or tarts with your favorite crust.
Keyword how much brandy to add to mincemeat, mincemeat recipe
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Beth Herman

Beth Herman is a freelance writer with interests in healthy living and food, family, animal welfare, architecture and design, religion, and yoga. She writes for a variety of national and regional publications, institutions, and websites.

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4 stars
Both my grandmothers had recipes for mincemeat and for MINCED meat pie filling. The mincemeat was a fruit pie filling that varied a bit from year to year since it used available dried fruits (Usually not raisins though) and brandy. The MINCED meat pie filling used available beef, venison, and pork scraps for half and finely chopped green tomatoes, dried apples and dried pears for the other half with whiskey or moonshine. Both were canned–and my grandmothers bought some of the first publicly available pressure canners so they could safely can the meat version. And both those early pressure canners are in local museums.


I have made mincemeat from a recipe in the Farm Journal Freezing and Canning Cookbook. I used venison, chopped apples, raisins, currants, cider, and many spices and cooked it all together. Then I pressure canned the mixture to preserve it. Makes the most wonderful pies.


I’m looking for the cookie recipe?

Susan Higgins

Hi Helen, which cookie recipe are you referring to? We’re happy to help! We have a lot of good ones for Christmas!

meade will

I use the store bought pie filling but ass a pound of cooked Jimmy Dean maple sausage


My Mom made mince meat pie with real meat. All us kids loved it, but we do not have her recipe. Dad couldnt remember or wouldn’t tell us. Does anyine have any old recipes that might be the same as Mom’s. Her’s tasted sweeter than commercial mincemeat. I think it had pork and dates. I don’t know what else. She was from Eastern Kentucky.


this is not the original recipe for mincemeat. the original recipe included boiling a hogs head and then taking all the meat off it and shredding it with the other ingredients.

Susan Higgins

Hi Sally, that is correct. We say, “Try this variation on the traditional treat,” which is more “traditional” today.


During the Christmas Holidays, my family would come down from the San Luis Valley and all the elders would get together in the kitchen. Each knowing their role in making our holiday feast. And one of them was mince-meat empanadas. Ours were made of the sweet meet made out of beef tongue. One of the most tasting fried pies that I will keep in my family tradition

Debra Nelson

My mom a made mincemeat cookies yummy. Happy hoildays


every year my grandmother makes me a couple of batches of mincemeat cookies its real easy she makes a sugar cookie dough from scratch then rolls the dough out cuts circles and then puts some mincemeat on one circle then puts one over and crimps with a fork all the way around the cookie there really good and better than making in to a pie

Angela Westhoff

I LOVE mincemeat pie!! I actually love straight mincemeat. When I was little my family would make it every winter. I liked eating it right out of the HUGE washtub we mixed it in. I remember one year we actually cooked a real hogs head for the meat. That was a lot of work. We would mix “everything but the kitchen sink” in our recipe…as well as most of the ingredients you’ve listed…lol.


I’ve been making my g.g.grandmothers recipe for years and with beef, but without cranberries and currants. I learned to make it from watching my grandmother. Ours has been a Christmas tradition as far back as I can remember. I hope my future grandchildren one day will enjoy it as much and pass it on too.

marie harrington

I have an old recipe that makes mock mincemeat. It is made with ground green tomatoes, butter, brown sugar, apples, oranges, raisins, cinnamon, cloves, current jelly. It is fruity and sweet and makes a wonderful pie or filled cookies. The recipe makes 6 quarts or 12 pints, I can it and have it on hand to bake with. My husband and I both love it, much better than what you can buy in the store.


This is the version of mincemeat recipe I remember my mom making when I was young. Being farmers, green tomatoes were gathered before the first hard frost and mom would grind them to put up jars of canned mincemeat. Mincemeat pie was a common dessert all winter long.


Robyn, it looks to me like it would make enough for two pies.

PL Packer

My grandmother always used the meat from the neck of venison to make mincemeat. Along with apples, raisins, currents, cloves, cinnamon and allspice. The recipe also called for beef suet. My Mom made it after Grandma passed, and now that she is gone I will try to make it. I am the only one in the family that will eat it, but it isn’t Christmas without a real mincemeat pie.


In the Pennsylvanis Dutch country it is still made with meat. Personally I prefer Gross and Blackwell mince meat in a jar. I just add a little brandy, rum or whisky and bake it like a normal pie. Delicious served warm with vanilla ice cream.

cathy haynes

I want on your.mailing list. I.remember my great grandmother made
This and she and I were the only ones to eat this. I was about 5-6 haven’t had one.in about 30 years


My grandmother used to make mincemeat of her own recipe and my mother and other relatives loved it. Us kids would not touch the stuff. My grandmother would make pies, cookies, and cakes with the stuff. She eventually passed it onto my Mom. She just can’t give it away except to people their own age.

Thersia Ray

My Mother used to make mincemeat cake for Christmas. I also did after I got married. Everyone on both sides loved them

Judi Dempsey

i make mincemeat pies every year.. I use the packed NONSUCH MINCEMEAT brand. Not the jar. There is a difference in the taste. My mother used NONSUCH BRAND. I LOVE IT BUT NOT MANY FAMILY members do.


I can’t find mincemeat/mince pies in stores anywhere nowadays. I was able to buy mince pie filling at Walmart last year and made my own pie. It turned out pretty good! I bought another jar this year and plan to make another pie closer to Christmas. I’ll be the only one eating it, though. I try to tell people, “It’s just fruit!” Maybe I should make one and take it to work to spread the good word of mince pie! 🙂


I love mincemeat pie. I used to fine them in the frozen food section.They are hard to fine now . Also the prepared mincemeat in the jars are hard to fine .

Janis McElhaney

It is mostly called mince pie now days. I remember eating mince meat pie (yes, it did have meat, beef or pork I believe) when I was a child, my great aunt would have the pie for special meals. It was delicious.


In my family my grandmother use to make a stuffing for the turkey. I make it on but I don’t stuff it in the turkey, I use it as a side.
I have no idea what it’s called. If anyone out there knows let me know.

I lb of hamburger meat steamed and drained
1 cup of pecans
2 cups of chopped celery
1 cup of raisins
3/4 of brown sugar,
add water around 1 cup and let it boil and then simmers for around 20 minutes,

My family loves it


I hope I can have same fruitcake recipe.


How much filling does this recipe make? enough for one 9″ pie? I was thinking of making tarts but not sure how many to make. TIA


My mother made mincemeat when we grew up, with green tomatoes, as well as raisins, currents and other dried fruit. I have continued making it every year. Way better then the super sweet stuff in stores.


I used to make my own mincemeat, made a pie or two for Christmas each yr when the kids were little, My son makes one now and then. He buys the jar of mincemeat and adds to it, mainly sauteed hamburger meat, which suffices for venison. Good memories!!


The recipe handed down in our family called for meat. The meat, apples and raisins were run through a meat grinder, not left chunky. I love minced meat but no one else in my family does. Growing up my mom would not only make pies but filled cookies much like Fig Newtons.


I remember my gram making mince meat pies in the fall when I was a little girl in the 1970’s and early 80’s and she used meat in them… They smelled so good when baking that you just had to taste them. Yum….but of course everything my gram made was yummy 😉

Sandra Dauchenbaugh

I use to remember my mom use to make mincemeat cookies. It was a soft cookie. She made a lot of the cookies and she would store the rest in a airtight container and put them in the freezer for a later on treat.


I have fond memories of making our own mincemeat for pies. My mother made the crusts as none of the girls in the family never had the same talent for that part. we used venison for the meat and the girls all pitched in to prepare the fruits while the men cut up and trimmed the meat. I am the only one in my immediate family or circle of friends who love mincemeat fillings. I do buy the prepared on in a jar, but it is too super sweet as prepared so I cut the contents with a couple of minced up very tart apples.


I love fruitcake as well and always look forward to buying the small Claxton fruitcake that is good for just a few people. Nobody else will go near it. I don’t know when I discovered I liked it but it is not as bad as people think it is.

Margaret Knowles

I do…..but not the heavy kind…super moist & even great for toasting…send me an e-mail & I will share.

Gilda Osmond

I love mincemeat pie. I think I’m the only person in my family who does. I know I’m the only one who also likes fruitcake and isn’t afraid to admit it…haha
Do you have a favorite fruitcake?

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