As opposed to the mince pie you would have with chips for your tea, the sweet mince pie is a traditional British pastry eaten at Christmas and has been a staple of our Christmas fayre for centuries. It was back in the 11th century that these pies originated when crusaders returned from their exploits in the Holy Land laden with a wide variety of oriental spices and used three of them, nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon, which symbolised the gifts from the Magi, to create the first mince pies.
These pies were originally made in a rectangular shape with something placed on the top to represent baby Jesus, this was removed just before eating. Mince pies today are almost always round, with a diameter of around 2-3in, or 5-7.75cm and have a crust of either puff or sweet shortcrust pastry. The Americans have their own version which is invariably larger, between 10-25cm in diameter, and are used to serve several people as opposed to being a single treat.
Back in Victorian times, mince pies were made from spiced meat with dried fruit added, but that has evolved over the years to the pies we know and love today where the filling consists of fruited mince which typically contains currants, raisins, apricots, cherries, candies peel and spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon and nuts like almonds and walnuts. Suet holds it altogether and many have additional ingredients such as rum or brandy.
They are also very versatile and can be eaten hot or cold, and a bowl containing a hot mince pie and brandy butter is a real winter warmer and as much a part of Christmas for many as the turkey. There are some great traditions associated with mince pies that are part of every childhood. Santa is known to be a big fan, so there was always one or two left by the chimney, along with a glass of sherry or brandy and a carrot for Rudolph, as a thank you for filling the stocking hanging there.
When making mince pies at home the mixture must only be stirred on a clockwise direction as you will apparently bring bad luck upon yourself by stirring anticlockwise. A strange tradition which few adhere to now is that mince pies should be eaten in silence, although nobody knows why and whilst there are various reasons for why this should be adhered to, such as not eating with your mouth full, there is no evidence of its inception.
Eating a mince pies every day for the 12 days of Christmas means good luck for the coming year, when you eat your first mince pies of the season you should make a wish and there should be a star on the top of the pie to represent the guiding star which led the Magi and the shepherds to the stable in Bethlehem. That’s a lot of history and tradition for one little pie, and we will be wolfing them down by the shed load over the next few weeks, so happy eating.