Bambi, Thumper, & Moor “Old Freddy Walker” Mince Pies

From time to time I hear it said that Christmas mince pies used to include real mince, not purely a sickly-sweet mixture of dried fruit. Wikipedia documents the use of meat in the Christmas mince pie, so it must be true. There are a few “real mince mince pie” recipes floating around; one even makes an appearance in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s “The River Cottage Year“. My recipe here is based on the one from Hugh’s book, the main difference being the use of game meats instead of beef. This is the second festive season that I’ve made these mince pies, they have gone down very well at home, in the local pub, and in the office (not poisoned anyone yet!)

First: get hold of some Bambi, this shouldn’t be difficult as many supermarkets in the UK sell venison. However It may be difficult to get minced venison; ideally try to buy venison from a good butcher and ask them to mince it. I have a mincer and minced some stewing venison that I picked up in the supermarket. If mincing at home I would recommend buying venison fillets or steaks, as trimming unwanted sinew from diced meat is a pain in the backside. As much sinew as possible should be trimmed off prior to mincing, otherwise there will be chewy gristly bits in the mince pies. A fine mince is desirable, to achieve this I pushed it through a coarse plate and then my finest plate (about 4mm). This recipe includes minced Thumper (rabbit) because I didn’t quite have enough Bambi to make up the weight I wanted. (If you’re dull you could just use minced lamb or beef instead of venison and bunny, I’m thinking of trying minced 50/50 pheasant and bunny next year.)

Another difference this year is that I’ve added Moor’s Old Freddy Walker old ale to the mix instead of brandy. This is part of a recent effort on my part to cook using beer more often. It has worked out fine in this case, though I’m not sure anyone could tell that there is beer in this. Next time I might try using something like BrewDog’s Paradox Smokehead – I think that would make a mince pie that’d go down very well with a wee dram of Islay whisky.

Ingredients, prepared

Ingredients, prepared

The ingredients I used are:

  • 300g minced venison (lamb or beef will do instead of venison and bunny)
  • 50g minced bunny
  • 150g grated beef suet (preferably home-processed, but “Atora” will do)
  • 150g currants
  • 150g raisins
  • 85g ground almond
  • 2 granny smith apples, peeled and fine-chopped
  • 8 dates, chopped to about currant-size pieces
  • 140g soft brown sugar
  • 40g stem ginger in syrup, fine-chopped
  • 25g …of the syrup from the above
  • 1 lemon – juice and zest
  • 3 lemons & granulated sugar – to make candied peel (or 75g of shop-bought candied peel)
  • ½tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • ½tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½tsp ground ginger
  • ½tsp ground allspice
  • 200ml strong ale (Moor’s Old Freddy Walker)

The candied peel is the most complicated of the ingredients to prepare. I made my own because a friend at work is allergic to oranges and I couldn’t find any candied peel that didn’t contain orange peel. While it would be easier to use peel from the shop, I do think that home-made candied lemon peel is more tasty and lemony than the anything shop-bought. Brief instructions for candying peel can be found at the end of this entry.[1].

The method for making the mince couldn’t be simpler: put the lot into a bowl and mix thoroughly. Hugh’s recipe suggests the mix can be kept in jars in the larder for some time, but I haven’t tried this. I put mine in a sealed container in the fridge and let it sit for at least a week to mature, and for up to 3 weeks (just because it has never lasted longer than 3 weeks!)

Puff parcels

Un-traditional puff parcels

Next thing to do is to bake some mince pies! The photo above is of mince-pie parcels simply packaged in a folded-over piece of shop-bought puff-pastry, washed with a bit of beaten egg, and baked in a 200°C oven for about 20 minutes. I prefer a sweet shortcrust pastry however, which can be simply folded over like the puff version, or formed into little pasties, or used to make little pies in tins just like the shops sell. The little mince pies are a bit of a bother to put together, but they do look good. For the pies in the photo below I used a shortcrust recipe from the Jamie Oliver website and baking was as for the puff version but with 5 minutes at 200°C then 15 at 180°C.

Traditional tarts

Traditional tarts

Have a very meaty &amp beery (not too beery) Christmas! (Well, Xmas has been and gone for 2010 now – so I hope you had one.)

[1] Candied peel, briefly:

  1. 8th the lemons and peel out the flesh
  2. With a small sharp knife slice off the inner fibrous pith (about 1mm)
  3. Blanch in simmering water for 5 minutes
  4. Drain peel and return to saucepan peel in enough fresh water to cover to double-depth
  5. Add sugar, about 1.75 times the volume of water added
  6. Bring to simmering point and simmer until liquid is thick and syrupy, but before it browns
  7. Turn out on some foil and let cool before dicing

Trashy Blonde Bunny Stew

Bunnies! (Not fluffy... anymore...)

Bunnies! (Not fluffy… anymore…)

It was to be rabbit stew for dinner this evening, having picked 3 bunnies up from the butcher in the Hitchin markets. We’re having to try out new butchers at the moment – alas there aren’t many around and I’m not so keen on what I can find. Sadly the best butcher in Hitchin, Mr Foskett, shut up shop for semi-retirement. I’m thinking of buying a car just so I can get to a decent butcher again … desperate times. Anyway, I digress.

Flicking through my Clarissa Dickson-Wright Game Cookbook I felt inspired to bring bunnies and beer together by a recipe for Rabbit Saltimbocca braised in Heather Ale. I wasn’t interested in saltimbocca though, so have instead loosely based this recipe on Clarissa’s Rabbit Stew recipe on the previous page.

Having recently received an order from BrewDog I had a few beers to choose from and settled on the Trashy Blonde (ABV 4.1%; OG: 1.0417; IBU: 40; Hops: Amarillo, Simcoe, Motueka) as it wasn’t too bitter for stewing with (I’ve had some beer based stews come out way too bitter in the past.) The recipe uses salt-preserved lemons as I thought the wonderful lemony hint they add to the flavour would compliment the beer-based gravy, I believe it worked quite well.


  • 3 Bunnies – jointed to saddles and legs (everything else I put aside for stock)
  • 3 Trashy Blondes (330ml bottles) – or other tasty beer, I wish I had 5AM Saint for this actually
  • 380g Pork Belly – roughly cubed
  • 4 tablespoons of Olive Oil
  • 15 Shallots – topped, tailed, and peeled (285g once done)
  • 6 cloves of Garlic – crushed, peeled, roughly chopped
  • Fresh herbs
    • 4 sprigs of Oregano
    • 2 sprigs of Rosemary
    • 4 sprigs of Thyme
    • 2 Bay Leaves
  • 2 Salt-Preserved Lemons (i.e. Moroccan style) – roughly diced
  • 3 teaspoons of Capers – I prefer salt-pickled over vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons of heavilly-reduced Chicken Stock – or a stock cube, or use light stock instead of water
  • 3 Anchovies – I used salted anchovies in oil
  • 1 tablespoon of Black Peppercorns – coarsely crushed


I suggest cooking this sort of thing in a big heavy enamelled pot. I’m using my 24cm Chasseur. Whatever you use should be oven-proof, although you could also simmer the stew on the stove if this is not possible. At some point you also want to pre-heat your oven to 150C (I do this near the end as my oven gets to 150C in less than 5 minutes.)

The pork belly is optional (well, everything in any recipe is optional – in this case I just think the pork is extra-optional.) If using the pork belly then the first thing to to is put a tablespoon of olive oil into your stew pot and heat it, then thoroughly brown the pork. Remove the pork and put it in a bowl to the side.

Browned bits

Browned bits

Now add another tablespoon of oil and brown the bunny bits in batches. Just put in enough at a time to fit on the bottom of the pot without them touching. Once browned on both sides remove the bits to the bowl with the pork and repeat until all the bunny is browned. All of this “browning” should be done on quite high heat – there will be smoke and black build-up in your pot. Do not be scared, this is all good.

Next toss the shallots into the pot and give them a good browning as well. Put them aside also. Turn the flame under your pot down low and add the rest of the oil to the pot and then the garlic. Sizzle this very briefly (don’t let it brown, sizzle for mere seconds! Only because I like the smell.) Now pour in the Trashy Blonde! Whooosh! Steamy fun. Using a wooden spoon or scraper give the base of the pot a good scraping to pick up all the tasty residue.

Scrunch up the fresh herbs a bit and throw them in. Then throw the rest of the ingredients in: preserved lemons, capers, stock (if using), anchovies, and black pepper. Set this simmer for a minute then add the meat and shallots back into the pot. Top this up with hot water or light stock until the meat is just barely covered. Bring to simmering point and then pop it in the oven for 1 hour.

How you serve it is up to you, but here’s what I did:

  • 15 Baby Potatoes – in 1cm thick slices
  • 3 Parsnips
  • 2 Carrots
  • Bread

Roast Parsnips & Carrots: Bring the oven up to 250C. Peel the parsnips and carrots and chop them into 2 or 3 large chunks. Lightly coat with oil and put them in a baking tray. Sprinkle with sea-salt and black pepper then pop into the oven. Cook until – well, cooked.

Potatoes: Do this after putting the other veggies into the oven. Using a slotted spoon, or similar, remove all the meat and other bits from the stew to a bowl. Cover and set aside. Bring the stew gravy to simmering point and then add the sliced potato. Simmer until the potato is cooked to your liking. When the potatoes are cooked add the meat back to the pot and let simmer a little more to warm before serving if necessary.

Bread: The thin and tasty gravy you get with this recipe makes this a perfect stew to have a bit of bread with. I get a good sourdough from our local baker. Whatever bread you use please let it be something robust, not the modern fluff you get in the supermarkets. A good traditional bread with a firm texture will take up the stew juices beautifully, the modern junk will just turn to slime.

Serve with a bottle of Trashy Blonde, of course!

Trashy Blonde Bunny Stew

Trashy Blonde Bunny Stew