Saturday, 24 December 2011

Mince Meat Pies

When I first came across to England I had a hard time with some of the food terminology:  French fries were 'chips', potato chips were 'crisps' and mince meat pies had no meat in them.  Apparently they once did, though. Brits frequently use the terms 'sweet' and 'savory' and the latter term only ever used to mean a sort of herb to me. Savory over here usually means 'salty or spicy' as opposed to 'sweet' in flavour.  The original mince pies were savory, whereas today they are sweet.

I did a bit of research that said that the traditional spices (nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon) used in mince meat pies were brought back from the Holy Land by the Crusaders and were associated with gifts to the Christ child.  The mixing of spices and fruits with shredded / minced beef or mutton were a way of preserving the meats.  Pastry pies filled with this mixture would last for months in the cold weather.  I believe I'll just take their word for that.   

The original pies were coffin or crib shaped, again referencing the baby Jesus.  They were often called Christmas pie, which is pretty much the only time I ever see them around here, though now they tend to be round and very small; this latter bit is a good thing, as they are extremely rich.

It's up!  Only 8 hours of work...

I found it interesting that in the mid-1600's, when Oliver Cromwell and his Puritans were in charge of the country, Christmas pie was looked upon as being associated with Catholicism.  It was condemned as hedonistic, as was Christmas altogether.  Christmas as viewed as being a pagan festival that encouraged gluttony and drinking.  Nevertheless, the utility of using fruits and spices to preserve meats (and perhaps a bit of rebellion) allowed the practice of making Christmas pies to survive.

By Victorian times, meat preservation was not as much an issue and so minced meats were added as an after thought if at all, though the use of suet has continued to the present time.  Some things it's best just not to think about.  Today's recipes are generally all about fruit and spices, with a bit of brandy thrown in for good measure.

What brought about this discussion of minced meat pies?  Bill decided to bake some this week.  He used a jar of minced meat from the supermarket, but he rolled out his very own pastry.  They came out entirely edible and I was well impressed by his efforts.   He liked his efforts pretty well too I guess, as he bought more mince in preparation to make more pies. 


Anonymous said...

I love the smell of mince pies wafting through the kitchen, last year I made Dickens pie which is the traditional version with meat and spices, really unusual and quite delicious.

Suburban Princess said...

My dad makes hundreds of them every Christmas...everyone loves them...except me! LOL! He has my taste tho and uses puff pastry as we tend to not be fans of short pastry.

Merry Christmas!

Rick Stone said...

My mother used to make mince meat pies but they were made in full size pie pans. AND, they had no meat in them either. Can't say I ever liked them myself. Of course, she also made apple pies which probably kept me from seeing any other ones there.

Your tree looks nice. Did not even get our decorations down from the attic this year. This was Jo's favorite time of year and she loved to decorate. Just could not get up for it this time.

Shelley said...

Tabitha - Will be hunting around for that Dickens pie recipe!

S.Princess - I had to go look up the different between short and puff pastry, I'm so not into sweet food. That said, I love any combination of fat and flour, so I can't say I have a favourite. Both are lovely. I can't eat many minced pies, thats for sure. One is enough for me, but one a day is OK too.

Rick - I have to say that a lot of tears went into putting that tree up. I miss my Mom something rotten this time of year and all her ornaments seem to give as much sadness as they do pleasure. Of course I have nearly a dozen ornaments that Joanne made and those brought more tears. I'm honestly thinking about changing the decor on my Christmas tree for a couple of years, just to give it a rest. I'd honestly be surprised if you ever put up a Christmas tree again, for as long as you are on your own. I doubt I would bother except for other people coming over to see it. We'll be thinking of you.

Anonymous said...

Shelley : It came 20 minutes ago! It was a massive order ( Boxing Day dinner too) so thank God! They have let so many people down this year, they are having a PR meltdown, the thing I really wanted was the goose as they have to be ordered 6 to 8 weeks before around here and I wouldn't have been able to source one, but now we have two, a goose and chestnut pie, King George Christmas pud and a glut of other stuff. We won't be able to move come Tuesday.

Beryl said...

One of my favorite candies is the Mincemeat Bon Bon made by See's during the holidays. I also like a vegetarian Mince Meat pie, but we never have it in the house. Before we met, my husband was served bad venison mincemeat by one of his uncle's wife's relatives and got really sick. (Serves them right for eating Bambi!) So just the though of Mincemeat makes his stomache churn.