In Season – A Christmas Pie
by Robert Veitch
Is there any better way to relax during the festive season than with a cup of tea and a warm mince pie? Robert Veitch fills us in on their origins.
Mincemeat, and let’s be clear this is not minced meat, has it roots in Middle Eastern culture where ancient pies consisted of meat with fruit and spices.
In Tudor times shrid pies were made from shredded meat, suet and dried fruit. Cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg were added to the recipe, symbolically representing the Three Wise Men. These pies evolved into long rectangular affairs known as coffins.
Elizabethans would call them minched pyes or Christmas pyes, when they first became associated with the festive period. Mutton, veal and ox tongue were popular ingredients back then. Over time a change in fashion saw the pies shrink in size and become rounded.
The Victorians added raisins, currants, apples, lemons, oranges and brandy to the mixture, along with sugar from the Caribbean. With so many ingredients the meat content began to fall, and it fell further when the concoction began to be prepared and stored in jars in readiness for Christmas. These days, all that remains of the meat is the suet.
There are old wives tales aplenty associated with mince pies. One suggests mincemeat should only be stirred in a clockwise direction to avoid bringing bad luck upon oneself for the following year. Another tale recommends the eating of a mince pie in a different house on each of the twelve days of Christmas.
In the UK we purchase 370,000,000 mince pies every Christmas, eating 295,000,000 of them at a rate of 10,000 every second, and possibly a few spilled crumbs for the dog. The rest end up high in the sky, fuelling reindeer and their master.
So when you ogle at these diminutive pies on a plate, remember the antiquated history, and don’t forget to leave one outside on Christmas Eve for you know who…