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What Are Mince Pies?

By Eugene P.
Updated May 16, 2024
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Mince pies are a type of baked good that originated in the United Kingdom sometime in the Middle Ages.‭ ‬The traditional pie filling consists of meat,‭ ‬fat,‭ ‬fruits and some spices.‭ ‬The filling is placed in a pastry shell,‭ ‬covered and baked.‭ The popularity of mince pies continues in the early 21st century, primarily in Britain, where they are commonly served during the Christmas season.‭ ‬Modern recipes often remove the meat from the filling and instead use only fruits,‭ ‬spices and beef fat.

There are several‭ ‬names for mince pies.‭ ‬They can be known as minced pies,‭ ‬mincemeat pies or Christmas pies.‭ ‬These pies originally were large and made in an oval shape.‭ ‬The pastry shell was referred to as a coffin.‭ ‬As time progressed,‭ ‬the pies reduced in size until they were smaller, single-serving pastries.

The main ingredient used in mince pies is known as mincemeat.‭ ‬It is important to note that there is a distinct difference between modern recipes for mincemeat and mince pie,‭ ‬and the recipe that was historically used.‭ ‬In the past,‭ ‬mincemeat was a collection of chopped meat and dried fruits.‭ ‬Fat from meat,‭ ‬called suet,‭ ‬was added to this along with spices such as cloves,‭ ‬cinnamon,‭ ‬mace and allspice.

Mincemeat also could include liquids such as vinegar,‭ ‬wine or brandy.‭ ‬This mixture was used to help preserve meats for storage.‭ ‬Many times,‭ ‬the mincemeat is aged to promote fermentation and merge the flavors,‭ ‬adding more overall sweetness to the mixture.‭ ‬A properly packaged and preserved batch of mincemeat can last more than 10 years.

Over time,‭ ‬variations of the classic mincemeat recipe emerged.‭ ‬Most notably,‭ ‬many recipes began to remove meat from the mixture.‭ ‬Instead,‭ ‬only beef suet or butter was added to the traditional fruits and spices to provide some savory taste element.‭ ‬In modern times,‭ ‬butter or vegetable oils are often called for instead of suet.

Mince pies‭ ‬are thought to have emerged in Britain when soldiers returned from the Crusades.‭ ‬They brought back‭ ‬many Eastern cooking styles,‭ ‬one of which was the tradition of mixing sweet and savory foods in a single dish.‭ ‬While there is some speculation on the subject,‭ ‬there is no clear explanation as to why mince pies became associated with Christmas.

When making mince pie,‭ ‬there are certain English traditions that have developed over time.‭ ‬One tradition is that everyone in the family,‭ ‬or in the home,‭ ‬should stir the pot at least once.‭ ‬While stirring, they can make a wish for the coming‭ ‬new year.‭ ‬When‭ ‬the pot is stirred,‭ ‬it should always be in a clockwise direction, because counter-clockwise stirring is an indication of bad luck.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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