I still remember my first-ever mincemeat pie, served on Christmas Day at the Charles Dickens Museum in London. It tasted warm and Christmas-y, the perfect treat after a cold trek across the city in the snow. Since then, my mind has associated mincemeat pies with a Dickensian, Victorian Christmas – but mincemeat pies actually go back much farther than that.
Originally, the term “mincemeat” simply referred to minced meat. As early as the Middle Ages, however, it was common to stretch out the meat by adding spices and dried fruit such as raisins or currants. The proportions of fruit to meat gradually increased, until by the mid-17th century cooks were starting to leave out the meat entirely and replace it with suet instead.
Although I have always loved mince pies made with store-bought filling, I felt a bit squeamish about a pie made with actual meat (especially when the meat is tongue). I turned to this meatless recipe from Elizabeth Raffald’s The Experienced English Housekeeper, which appears alongside a more traditional version made with ox tongue. Her first book, published in 1769, only contains the meat version; the meatless pie recipe doesn’t appear until the fourth edition, published in 1775.
Mincemeat Filling (makes enough for 20 small pies):
- 1/2 lb suet
- 1/2 lb apples
- 1/2 lb currants
- 1/6 lb raisins
- 1/4 lb sugar
- 2 oz candied orange peel
- 1 oz candied citron
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp cloves
- 2 1/2 tbsp brandy
- Mince all ingredients really, really small. Aim for everything to be about the same size as the currants.
- Mix all ingredients together in a bowl, then pack into airtight containers and place in the refrigerator for at least 3 days before baking.
Pie Crust (this is just a basic shortcrust recipe; Raffald doesn’t specify what type of pastry to use. Any pie crust recipe would work. This made enough for twenty pies plus stars):
- 450 g flour
- 225 g butter
- pinch salt
- enough cold water to form a dough
- To make the crust, rub cold butter into the flour and salt. Add just enough cold water to form a dough. Chill for about 30 minutes.
- Roll out crust and cut into round pieces large enough to line muffin pans. Cut out stars or other shapes for the tops, if desired.
- Line muffin pans with pie crust, fill with mincemeat, and top with pastry stars. The mincemeat filling should come up to the top of the crust – but don’t overfill, or the suet might run over the edges of the muffin pans as it melts and burn in the bottom of your oven (trust me, I’ve been there).
- Bake at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes, or until crust is turning golden.
It’s difficult to describe exactly what mincemeat tastes like. Part of the beauty of mincemeat is that the flavors of all the different ingredients blend together, so that no one flavor stands out. There’s a hint of brandy, maybe a touch of orange; overall it’s just very rich, and very delicious.
Although I thought that this mincemeat tasted similar to modern store-bought mincemeat, my boyfriend disagreed. He normally despises mincemeat pies and had to be cajoled into trying one of these. To my surprise, he declared that he loved it! He ate several of the pies, and even begged me to make a second batch.
If you, like me, also have mincemeat-haters in your life, give Elizabeth Raffald’s recipe a try and see if you can make any converts. If not – that just leaves more pie for you!
Ayto, J. (2012). Mincemeat. In The diner’s dictionary: Word origins of food & drink. (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Davidson, A. (2006). Mince pie. In A. Davidson & T. Jaine (Eds.), The Oxford companion to food (p. 509). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Raffald, E. (1775). The experienced English housekeeper. London: R. Baldwin. https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=HxpdAAAAcAAJ&pg=GBS.PA152