Christmas 2022: How Mince Pie Has Been Integral To This Festival
Image Credit: Delicious mince pies

If you are celebrating Christmas in England, you are most likely to have an ancient delicacy travelling through the ages. Mincemeat, a blend of fruit, spices, and suet, is the filling for a traditional English sweet pie known as a mince pie. In many parts of the English-speaking globe, these pies comprise an essential part of the Christmas spread. In the United States, it is known as a mincemeat pie, and in Australia and New Zealand, it is known as a fruit mince pie. Mutton pie, shrid pie, and Christmas pie were just a few of the early titles for the mince pie. Let's explore how Mince Pie has been an essential element of Christmas. 

Introduction, tradition and evolution

During the English Civil War, the Puritan authorities disapproved of consuming the savoury Christmas pie, as it came to be known, because of its association with Catholic "idolatry." Although the recipe for Christmas pie had become sweeter and its size had been substantially decreased from the enormous oblong shape once seen, the custom of eating Christmas pie in December persisted far into the Victorian era. Even though it is traditionally a meatless dish, mince pies (which may include suet or other animal fats) are still a popular holiday delicacy in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

According to Timbs and other authors, the tradition of giving sweets to Roman patriarchs at the Vatican during Saturnalia is the ancestor of the pie. Judiciary scholar John Selden speculated that the coffin of Christmas Pies, in elongated shape, is in Imitation of the Cratch (Jesus's crib), suggesting that early pies were substantially larger and rectangular than those eaten now. T. F. Thistleton-Dyer, a writer, found Selden's theory improbable because the crust of a pie is commonly referred to as the coffin in traditional English cookbooks.

Varying ingredients 

The common ingredients were minced meat, suet, and various fruits. Likewise, spices like cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg are used. The contents of mince pies can be traced back to the 13th century when European crusaders brought back Middle Eastern cuisine from their travels that included meats, fruits, and spices. These recipes carried the Christian symbolism of portraying the gifts brought to Jesus by the Biblical Magi. Traditionally, Christmastime mince pies were formed like a long, narrow manger.

Freshly made mince pies, Image Source: zestcakesqueenstown@Instagram

You can trace the current mince pie's ingredients back to European crusaders. Middle Eastern cooking techniques were trendy then, mainly fusing meats with fruits and spices. Some of these savoury and sweet concoctions were baked into pies; for example, in Tudor England, shrid pies (as they were called back then) were made with shredded pork, suet, and dried fruit. According to English historian John Timbs, adding flavour with spices like cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg was common to practise in representing the gifts given by the three wise men from the East.

Recipe progression

The ancestor to today's mince pies went through a few different names. According to historian John Brand, they were called minched pies in Elizabethan and Jacobean era England. Mutton pie is one such alternative, and in the subsequent century, it became known as Christmas pie. According to a recipe written by Gervase Markham in 1615, you should start with "a leg of mutton," remove "the best of the meat from the bone," and then add mutton suet, pepper, salt, cloves, mace, currants, raisins, prunes, dates, and orange peel. He also proposed substituting beef or veal for mutton. Fillings for pies in the north of England typically consisted of geese. Chopped neat's tongue, beef suet, bloom raisins, currants, mace, cloves, nutmeg, brown sugar, apples, lemons, brandy, and orange peel all make appearances in an 1854 North American filling recipe.

Christmas connection

Tasty Christmas mince pie, Image Source: lazysuzyblr@Instagram

How are these delights prepared, and why do we eat them mainly during holidays? In addition, the original shape, an oval, was meant to represent the manger where Jesus was laid to rest. Initially, mince pies filling were game birds like partridge, pheasant, rabbit, pigeon, and hare, much like the filling of Christmas puddings today. Substituting a dried fruit mixture for the original stuffing transformed them into a sweet snack. Since only the wealthy could buy them, mince pies initially served as a symbol of social prestige. The rich would display their affluence by serving pies in unusual shapes like hearts and crescents.

The Middle Ages introduced the practice of eating a mince pie every day for the 12 days leading up to Twelfth Night, making them a popular holiday delicacy. It was believed that if you did this, you'd be happy for the following calendar year.

Can you eat mince pies on Christmas?

To combat overeating, Oliver Cromwell outlawed holiday goodies like mince pies and other sweets in the 1650s. The prohibition on mince pies is now only a legend because it didn't last long. Mince pies are becoming a traditional Christmas Day food.