Mince Pies and their unappealing roots
They appear to be the marmite of the festive period, you either love them or wouldn’t touch them with a barge pole. But what exactly is a Mince Pie, why do we eat them at Christmas and why do they have that unappealing name.
Photo by Lillian Francis
Is it a sweet or a savoury? These days very little mincing goes into a Mince Pie, most of the fruits used to make the mincemeat—another misnomer because the current version contains no meat unless beef suet is used—are small enough not to require chopping. Raisins, sultanas, currants, and many contain dried mixed peel, which I try to avoid because mixed peel is the worst invention ever. Spices, some suet and plenty of booze and the basis of the mincemeat is ready.
But what of days of old? Some reports have them dating back to medieval times, when the ‘Christmas Pie’, which was larger in size and oval (possibly to represent Christ’s manger) would have contained beef (for the wealthy) or suet, mutton, goose, or sheep’s tongue (for the less well off). It is thought this meat was then mixed with fruits and then spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg, brought back by knights returning from the Crusades, were added. The fruit bulked out the protein, making it go further and the spices disguised meat that might be ‘on the turn’.
By the 1800s there were recipes for mincemeat which listed suet, fat, currents, peel apple, spices, brandy and sugar amongst the ingredients. This is remarkably similar to what we might use in homemade mincemeat today. Prior to this mince pies would have tasted like savoury pies heavily flavoured with fruit and spices with very little sweetness to them. The reason for this change could conceivably be contributed to the ready availability of cheap sugar from the slave plantations in the West Indies.
And by the time Mrs Beeton produced her legendary cookery book in 1861 only one of the mincemeat recipes she included actually listed meat in the ingredients. Her own opinion of the inclusion of meat in mince pies could probably be gauged by the fact that the traditional ‘meat-inclusive’ mincemeat was called simply ‘mincemeat’ whilst the meat-free version was ‘excellent mincemeat’.
As to why we only eat them at Christmas, the reason for that appears to have been lost in the mists of time. There are stories, of course. The aforementioned medieval shape representing Christ’s manger is one possibility. The trinity of spices—cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves—have been said to represent the gifts of the Magi.
Then again Mince Pies were served at Henry V’s coronation. In April 1413. The event was said to have been marred by a snow storm, though.
But, two centuries later, they had become synonymous with festive celebrations sufficiently that they were reviled, along with all things Christmasy, by Oliver Cromwell’s Puritans. Although, apparently, the reports of them being banned during this time were greatly exaggerated.
Personally I think that it has more to do with the original Mince Pie being a winter dish. The lack of fresh produce in a barren season encouraged the use of autumnal fruits and dried summer produce. And as time has passed and lives became more prosperous the, now, rich, alcohol-laced pie (no wonder the Puritans didn’t like them), became a winter treat and when better to treat yourself than at Christmas time.
Like I say, that is my take on things, but I don’t claim to be right.
While researching this post I read that you should eat a mince pie on every day of the 12 days of Christmas and to miss one would cause bad luck.
Now that’s a custom I can get behind.
Join Dominic and Reagan as they take the first tentative steps to forge some sort of relationship over a mince pie or two in When Love Flue In.
A soot-haired chimney sweep, an exploding flue and an uncooked turkey. It’s an unholy trinity that may make all of Dominic’s Christmas wishes come true.
Dominic is celebrating his first Christmas since his divorce, and although he’s spending it on his own, he’s determined to have a traditional Christmas morning, including a roaring fire. Unfortunately, Dominic’s chimney is blocked, which is why Reagan, a soot-haired chimney sweep, is head and shoulders up Dominic’s flue. Dominic is just lucky the man had a cancellation on Christmas Eve.
Unable to take his eyes off Reagan’s low-slung jeans and enticing arse while Reagan sets about the hearth with rods and brushes, Dominic knows five years is a long time to be obsessed with the man who sweeps his chimney every Christmas. This year there’s nothing to stop Dominic from acting on his desires—except his own insecurities.
An exploding flue provides the opportunity for more than just polite conversation and could be the catalyst for a perfect Christmas. But Dominic will need to stop hiding who he really is before a special sweep can light a fire in his heart.
Publisher’s Note: This book was previously released by another publisher. It has been revised and re-edited for release with Totally Bound Publishing.
About the author
An avid reader, Lillian Francis was always determined she wanted to write, but a ‘proper’ job and raising a family distracted her for over a decade. Over the years and thanks to the charms of the Internet, Lillian realized she’d been writing at least one of her characters in the wrong gender. Ever since, she’s been happily letting her ‘boys’ run her writing life.
Lillian now divides her time between family, a job and the numerous men in her head all clamouring for ‘their’ story to be told.
Lillian lives in an imposing castle on a wind-swept desolate moor or in an elaborate ‘shack’ on the edge of a beach somewhere depending on her mood, with the heroes of her stories either chained up in the dungeon or wandering the shack serving drinks in nothing but skimpy barista aprons.
In reality, she would love to own a camper van and to live by the sea.
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