Served hot or cold, with cream or with a brandy, I think we can all agree that a mince pie in December is hard to avoid. Whether you love them or hate them, they have become a winter staple in most households. Their mere presence in supermarkets is a sure sign that Christmas is drawing near.
So what is there to learn about these delicious sweet treats? Nowadays they are suitable for vegetarians, so why the ode to minced meat in their name? How did they get to be so associated with the winter holiday season that they are impossible to find outside of that time of the year? Let’s ho-ho-hope we can uncover this with these interesting facts about mince pies!
Once upon a time, mince pies did contain minced meat! Along with suet, dried fruits and spices. They were eaten as a main course, not desert.
The earliest variations of the mince pie we know and love today, were once called things like “mutton pie” (they used to contain lamb), “shird pie” and “Christmas pie”.
Once a status symbol for the rich to show off their pastry cooks, mince pies came in many impressive shapes and sizes like hearts or stars, often they all fit together like a jigsaw puzzle on the banquet table.
They started becoming popular around Christmas time when a tradition began circulating in the middle ages, it was said that eating a mince pie every day for the 12 days of Christmas would bring 12 months of happiness.
The spices in mince pies, nutmeg, clove and cinnamon, were chosen to represent the 3 gifts bestowed upon baby Jesus.
The traditional star on the mince pie is said to represent the guiding Star that the wise men followed to baby Jesus.
Even the shape of the mince pie itself became reflective of the birth of Jesus; an oval shape to represent the crib that baby Jesus slept in. Oftentimes with a pasty laid on top; in the form of a baby instead of a star!
Thus, during the English Civil War, Oliver Cromwell saw mince pies as an enemy to be banned along with other things he viewed as immoral, due to their link to Catholicism.
In 1644 it was illegal to eat a mince pie on Christmas day, but the 25th of December was named a day of obligatory fasting, so it was illegal to eat anything!
What is generally thought of as a British tradition actually originated as a Middle Eastern treat. In the 13th Century, European explorers brought back spices, meats and fruits along with different recipe inspirations.
in the 18th Century mince pies finally became sweet, as cheap sugar was brought back from slave plantations in the West Indies, once again drawing inspiration from afar.
Now, the traditional mincemeat for mince pies has settled as being a preserve of dried fruit steeped in rum or brandy, and spices.
They may also contain suet, which is used for the preservation, flavour, and to bind the mincemeat together, so make sure to check ingredients if you’re vegetarian!
Alcohol is also something to check for, though most shop bought ones are alcohol-free given their popularity, or the alcohol has effectively been cooked out of the filling.
In Britain, close to 800 million mince pies are consumed over the Christmas period on average.
The biggest manufacturer of mince pies is Mr Kipling, the factory in Barnsley in particular pulls its weight in baking; they make 27 million of the pies per year!
Some say that is it good luck to eat as many mince pies as you can on Christmas Eve, Mr Kipling would be happy to hear that one!
When biting into your first mince pie of the year, it is customary to make a wish.
The biggest mince pie ever was baked in Leicestershire in October of 1932, it weighed over 1,000kg!
Do you have any interesting or fun facts about Mince Pies that we’ve missed? Share them here in the comments section below!