Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Christmas Firsts #20 : Mince Pies

One of my favourite Christmas foods is mince pies. I am not sure I would have enjoyed as much the FIRST Christmas mince pies, filled with spiced meat and suet. The origin of the mince pie dates back to 13th century when Crusaders brought back to England Middle Eastern spices and methods of cooking meat with various fruit and spices.

The early mince pie was known by several names, including "mutton pie", "shrid pie" and "Christmas pie". Typically its ingredients were a mixture of minced meat, suet, a range of fruits, and spices such as cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Served around Christmas, the savoury Christmas pie (as it became known) was associated with supposed Catholic "idolatry" and during the English Civil War was frowned on by the Puritan authorities. Nevertheless, the tradition of eating Christmas pie in December continued through to the Victorian era, although by then its recipe had become sweeter and its size markedly reduced from the large oblong shape once observed.

A recipe for the pie filling dated 1615 says that the best meat should be cut from a leg of mutton and then add suet, salt and pepper, cloves, mace, currants, raisins, prunes, dates and orange peel. It is then not too far a step to the sweet mince pies we know - filled with dried mixed fruit, sugar, butter, brandy, nutmeg, cinnamon and mixed spice. Of course, there are now many variations of the mince pie recipe with additions of sloe gin, apples, almonds and nuts. 

I know many like to eat mince pies at room temperature, but I love mine heated with ice cream. I will be trying my hardest to keep up the tradition of eating a Christmas mince pie daily for the twelve days of Christmas - it is supposed to bring you luck for the coming year. Other mince pie traditions are not to cut the pies for fear of bad luck, and to make a wish when you eat the first one of the festive season - I think I can manage that. Thanks to those medieval crusaders who inspired the first Christmas mince pies - yum!

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