A mince pie is a sweet pie of British origin, filled with a mixture of dried fruits and spices called “mincemeat” that is traditionally served during the Christmas season. Its ingredients are traceable to the 13th century, when returning European crusaders brought with them Middle Eastern recipes containing meats, fruits and spices.
The early mince pie was known by several names, including “mutton pie”, “shrid pie” and “Christmas pie”. Typically its ingredients were a mixture of minced meat, suet, a range of fruits, and spices such as cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Served around Christmas, the savoury Christmas pie (as it became known) was associated with supposed Catholic “idolatry” and during the English Civil War was frowned on by the Puritan authorities. Nevertheless, the tradition of eating Christmas pie in December continued through to the Victorian era, although by then its recipe had become sweeter and its size markedly reduced. Today the mince pie remains a popular seasonal treat enjoyed by many across the United Kingdom.
The ingredients for the modern mince pie can be traced to the return of European crusaders from the Holy Land. Middle Eastern methods of cooking, which sometimes combined meats, fruits and spices, were popular at the time. Pies were created from such mixtures of sweet and savoury foods; in Tudor England, shrid pies (as they were known then) were formed from shredded meat, suet and dried fruit. The addition of spices such as cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg were added later.
Today’s mince pies undoubtedly have medieval origins, although we would not immediately recognise them. Pie crusts were known as coffins, and used as a vessel to cook delicate foods or house pre-boiled meat fillings. Pastry was little more than flour mixed with water to form a mouldable dough which was usually discarded unless you were really poor
Baby in a manger
As the pies were often baked in a rectangular shape, people began to associate them with the manger Jesus had laid in. Soon dough effigies of the baby Jesus were placed on top of the pies to reinforce the religious connection.