Mincemeat Pie – the History Behind It, How to Make It, How to Serve It, (and Why I Like It)

Food-mince-meat-pie-7

Mincemeat pies made by Erik Taylor of Seattle, Washington.

Food + Beverage

Mincemeat pie, a.k.a. mince pie, is a sweet pie of British origin. Filled with a mixture of dried fruits, nuts, and spices, it is traditionally served at or around Christmas in the English-speaking world. Mincemeat pies date back to the 13th Century. 

So why are mincemeat pies called mincemeat pies if no meat is involved in the recipe? Actually, early recipes for mincemeat pies DID include meat that was minced along with spices such as cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg.

A few modern recipes do, in fact, continue to call for minced meat – whether it be lamb, mutton, beef, or veal.

Since mutton was one of the main ingredients in early recipes, they were often called Mutton Pies.

Christian Crusaders

The ingredients for mincemeat pies were brought back to Britain from the Middle East by Christian Crusaders.

Since mincemeat pies were usually served around Christmas, they became known as Christmas pies. They were frowned by the Puritan authorities during the English Civil War because they were associated with Catholic idolatry.

Their popularity, however, continued into the Victorian era. Originally a savoury meat pie, mincemeat pies slowly became sweeter and fruitier. Many modern recipes have done away with meat altogether.

These are the ingredients for Cross and Blackwell Mincemeat Filling and Topping:

  • Pippin Apples,
  • Sugar,
  • Water,
  • Raisins,
  • Distilled Vinegar,
  • Corn Starch,
  • Orange Peel,
  • Sea Salt,
  • Spices,
  • Orange Juice,
  • Tapioca Syrup.

While the Cross and Blackwell Rum and Brandy Mincemeat Filling and Topping has several additional ingredients, none of them include meat.

 American Style Mincemeat Pies

Food-mince-pie-credit-alcinoe

The mincemeat pie pictured above is from Falmouth, Maine, in the United States. Following tradition, its recipe includes beef and suet in addition to apples, sugar, raisins, molasses, vinegar and spices.

When English Puritans settled in New England in the 17th Century, they brought the mincemeat pie-making  tradition with them. Since they did not celebrate Christmas, however, they often served it at Thanksgiving.

Mincemeat pies are now associated with both Thanksgiving and Christmas in the United States. They are rarely served at other times of the year.

Unlike British mincemeat pies, which are usually individual servings, American mincemeat pies are usually full sized pies.

Pumpkin pies are often served alongside mincemeat pies in both the United States and Canada. Pumpkins are native to North America, and they are harvested in the fall.

Changing Tastes

While researching this blog post, I came across many recipes for mincemeat pies from both sides of the Atlantic.

What surprised me was that most of them – from the BBC to Pillsbury – called for “a jar of ready-to-use mincemeat”. Few of them actually suggested making the filling yourself.

But there were exceptions, and bon appetit was one of them. The magazine’s recipe sounded delicious (but I’d hate to have to clean up the kitchen afterwards).

In addition to fresh apples and fresh orange juice, the recipe called for dried and candied fruits ranging from candied and dried cherries to dried apricots, dried cranberries, dried currants, dried figs, raisins, golden raisins, and finely grated orange zest.

In addition there was apple cider, dark brown sugar, butter, most of the traditional spices associated with mincemeat, and dark rum.

How to Serve It

What’s interesting is that mincemeat pies seem to be disappearing from the dessert course at Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners, and I think that’s a shame.

Nothing conjures of images of the holidays faster than the aroma of mincemeat wafting from the oven into the parlour.

Which brings up a key controversy: should mincemeat pies be served hot or cold? To me, it’s a no brainer: all pies taste best hot out of the oven, and if that’s not possible, pop one into the microwave for a few seconds.

In terms of what to serve them with, suggestions range from clotted cream to brandy butter to custard. I personally prefer a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Wine Pairings

In  terms of what to wash mincemeat pies down with, Fiona Beckett of Matching Food and Wine suggests a fortified wine such as port, sherry, or Madeira. These are her eight top picks (including one for teetotalers):

  • Mulled Wine,
  • Sweet Sherry,
  • Sweet Madeira,
  • Tawny Port,
  • Barley Wine,
  • Christmas Ale,
  • Black Tea.

I would like to add hot coffee to the list. But, as my dentists once warned me, you should never drink hot coffee with cold ice cream – it’s not good for your teeth.

If mincemeat pies are disappearing from the dessert course at holiday gatherings, I’ve noticed that even when they are served, I’m one of the only ones that actually wants a piece.

Is it a generational thing? Many younger people have never even heard of them!

How to Make It

My nephew Erik Taylor is an accomplished baker, who never takes a recipe for granted. If he likes something, he researches it, referencing various cookbooks, refining recipes with a pinch from this source, and a dash from that source.

If you’ve never cared for mincemeat pie, it might be because you’ve never had one with home-made pie filling.

Click HERE for Erik’s mouthwatering take on Traditional English Mincemeat Pie. It might just make you a convert!

Sources

The following sources were consulted in the preparation of this post (partial list):

You Might Also Enjoy …

  • As long as I’m on the topic of Christmas sweets, here’s a recipe for American Style Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Your Input Wanted!

  • What’s your favourite dessert at Christmas? Do you have any baking tips you would like to share? Please leave a comment in the COMMENT box below!

Advertisements

2 Replies to “Mincemeat Pie – the History Behind It, How to Make It, How to Serve It, (and Why I Like It)”

Leave a Reply