Delectable mince pies
NOTHING says Christmas quite like a mince pie. Each exquisite dollop of liquor-plumped fruit surrounded by crisp buttery pastry brings out the finest of festive feelings.
But there is much more to mince pies than meets the eye and not all of it is sweetness and light. In fact, almost none of it fits in with the peace and love theme that is generally felt to define the Christmas spirit. Mince pies have been through the wars. Literally. For something so sweet, there is a lot of bitterness packed into their history.
The original mince pies were savoury and can be traced back to 13th-century England when European crusaders returned from their murderous travels to the Middle East with recipes that mixed meat, fruit and spice.
All the early English recipes call for equal parts of minced cooked mutton, beef suet, currants and raisins with ginger, mace, nutmeg, cinnamon, orange rind and salt.
They sound more like a Moroccan pastilla or even a South African bobotie than the little sugar-dusted tart we know today.
During the English civil war, puritan extremists argued that the shape of a mince pie resembled Christ’s crib and to make or consume such Catholic idolatry was a sin. Pie persecution was rampant and, at its height, the sale of mince pies was an offence punishable with flogging.
Mince pies only lost their meaty fillings and became a sweet dessert offering in the 18th century, when cheap sugar made its way to England from the slave plantations of the West Indies. Today, some traditionalists still add beef suet to their recipes, but even this is increasingly left out by cooks unnerved by the idea of including the fat found around a cow’s viscera in their favourite festive food.
Purists insist that only a homemade mince pie will do. — Food24.