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.

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