English recipes from the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries describe a mixture of meat and fruit used as a pie filling. These early recipes included vinegars and wines, but by the 18th century, distilled spirits, frequently brandy, were being used instead. The use of spices like clove, nutmeg, mace and cinnamon was common in late medieval and renaissance meat dishes. The increase of sweetness from added sugars, and those produced from fermentation, made mincemeat less a savoury dinner course and helped to direct its use toward desserts.
Toward the end of the eighteenth century, mincemeat in Europe had become associated with old fashioned, rural, or homely foods. Victorian England rehabilitated the preparation as a traditional Yuletide treat.
By the mid-twentieth century the term was also used to describe a similar mixture that does not include meat, but that might include animal fat in the form of suet or butter, but could also substitute solid vegetable fats, making it vegetarian.
Many recipes continue to include suet, venison, minced beef sirloin or minced heart, along with dried fruit, spices, chopped apple, and fresh citrus peel. Zante currants, candied fruits, citron, and brandy, rum or other liquor.
Mincemeat is aged to deepen flavours, activating the preserving effects of the alcohol, which over time changes the overall texture of the mixture by breaking down the meat proteins. Preserved mincemeat may be stored for up to ten years.
Mincemeat can be easily produced at home, commonly using a ‘homely’ recipe that varies by region or ancestry. Commercial preparations, primarily without meat, packaged in jars, foil lined boxes, or tins are commonly available.