Julia Craigs’ Meatless Mincemeat in Time for Pies

Mincemeat has been around for centuries, a way to preserve meat during butchering season, taking all the small tough bits, cooking them well, then chopping them finely and mixing them with apples, raisins, suet, cider or brandy, spices, sometimes candied fruit peels, and making a pie from the mixture which aged in crocks until use. Here in Maine it is a traditional way to use deer neck.

Over time I have noticed that the meat in mincemeat has been diminishing, I suppose by a half-life so the only meat in modern jarred mincemeat is in the name. Mock and meatless mincemeats show up in the 1800s, and usually relied on green tomatoes, though occasionally I see one that calls for crackers. It is after all, the apples, raisins and spices that give mincemeat its particular character, though melted suet gives it a particular unctuousness. Frankly, I only like hot mincemeat pie because I dislike the grittiness of cold suet.

So it was with great interest I read a letter from Julia Craigs in Houlton who likes to cook and has been for quite a few decades already which enclosed a recipe for Grapenuts Mincemeat. I decided to save it for the Christmas season and gave it a try.

Julia wrote, “The recipe is simple calling for everyday ingredients, things we normally have in the house—Grapenuts might be the exception.” Around here what is exceptional about Grapenuts is that it is just about the only commercial cereal I buy, preferring oatmeal, or steel cut oats in winter, and my own granola in summer. They come in a small box, not very expensive; I like them once in a while for a change. So I was all set.

The mincemeat smells wonderful and tastes very much like the real, beef or venison, thing. I added citron because I think mincemeat ought to have some. I was more generous with the spices, too, but I think that is always a matter of taste, so adjust the spicing to your preferences. I also added more butter. The recipe calls for one package of seedless raisins. Packages of raisins have been shrinking. I can remember a time when a package held a pound. The quantity has slipped to fourteen ounces, or even twelve ounces. So I decided to get out a kitchen scale and I weighed out three-quarters of a pound or twelves ounces. With a recipe like this, though, you could put in more and no harm done.

The quantity the recipe produces will make at least two handsome pies, possibly three if they are smaller. Whether you have it on Christmas or not, I hope you enjoy it with family and friends. To all who celebrate the day, Merry Christmas!

Julia Craigs’ Grapenuts Mincemeat
Serves: 2-3 pies
  • 1 cup Grapenuts
  • 6 cups chopped apples
  • ½ cup molasses
  • ¼ cup vinegar
  • ¾ pound of raisins
  • 2-4 tablespoons butter
  • ½ teaspoons cinnamon, or more to taste
  • ½ teaspoons ginger, or more to taste
  • ½ teaspoons cloves, or more to taste
  • Salt
  • 2 cups water, or 1 cup water and 1 cup orange juice
  1. Mix all ingredients together in a large cooking pot, and cook for two or three hours or until the apples are tender.
  2. Use in pies or any recipes calling for mincemeat.
  3. Makes 6 cups (2-3 pies.)



Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.