It might still be November, but I’ve already started on the mince pies. I blame our local supermarket cafe who are now offering discounted mince pies with any hot drink. Crikey. There goes my diet!
“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 in much of the English-speaking world.” Wikipedia
According to a feature on the TV news, us Brits will consume over 200 million mince pies during the festive season. One of the country’s largest producers have to employ an additional 350 seasonal workers to keep up with the demand for 720 pies a minute at peak production. One look at the supermarket aisles and you can see the whole array of pies now offered, even some with added chocolate, but I admit to preferring the traditional recipe I grew up enjoying.
Apparently, in medieval times mince pies were filled with meat (thank goodness that’s no longer the case, or I’d be sunk – vegetarian here). Soon, cooks started adding sweeteners to the mix and the pies became a kind of status symbol. Spices and dried fruits, such as saffron, figs and dates, had to be imported and were therefore only available to the wealthy. By the twentieth century the meat had given way entirely to the spiced fillings.
The association of mince pies with Christmas seems to date from the 17th Century when the rich liked to demonstrate their wealth at their yuletide parties. Pies made in different shapes like stars and hearts added a further demonstration of wealth and status as it showed that these people were able to afford the best pastry cooks.
A custom from the Middle Ages says that if you eat a mince pie on every day from Christmas to Twelfth Night this will ensure happiness for the year to come. Well, that’s good enough for me. Oh, and tradition says you should make a wish on the first mince pie of the season.