Mince pie mania has set in at our house. One of the best things about the winter holidays — and that gets our hearts to beating a bit faster — is the reappearance of mince pies on the market.
My first mince pie memories are from childhood. My father would cut a quarter section out of a 10” pie and eat about half of it with one bite. This was a testimony to his love for mince pie, not of any overly large mouth or bad table manners. My mother, siblings, and I took a bit more time with our slices. This was a seasonal treat to savor.
The version of mince pie (also called “mincemeat pie”) we ate when I was a kid was the meatless kind, made with raisins, apples, currants, citron, orange peel, and spices in a wonderful flaky crust, usually with a lattice crust top, and were definitely minus the whisky and brandy often added for an extra kick (my mom was a teetotaler). However, mince piesstarted out with meat in them about 500 years ago in England and got spicier when Crusaders brought cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon back from the Middle East.
Imagine trying to keep your meat from spoiling without freezers and refrigerators. Salting and smoking, the two most common methods of preservation, to the rescue. They could get a bit monotonous, though. Mincemeat pies were a tasty alternative and became a tradition at Christmastime, something to leave for Father Christmas (a version of Santa Claus) to assure good gifts were received. You can still find lots of recipes for mincemeat pies that actually contain meat, from beef, mutton, and venison to turkey. They make a hearty main dish for cold Winter nights, sort of a fruity meat stew in a crust.
Mincemeat pies were banned during Christmas by Oliver Cromwell, a Puritan, in the mid-1600s as being too decadent for the austere sensibilities of the Puritans. Fortunately, the ban was lifted after his death and mincemeat pies were once again culinary delights that added richness to the season.
In recent years, the mince pie (meatless version) has also taken the form of tarts — bite-sized bits of wonder that are even tastier when warmed and topped with clotted cream, whipped cream, or (for a bit of a walk on the wild side) brandy sauce. They are available pre-made from Walkers, Hoppers, Mr. Kipling (I pigged out on those last year, with hubby getting only one out of a 6-pie pack), and Cooplands, among others. You can also get the mince pie fillingin a jar and make up your own pie (whether you add meat or not is your choice).
Time to purchase a few dozen — uh, hundred — packages of those little mince pies and stash ’em in the freezer. Then, I can pull out a package now and then, steep up some Assam or English Breakfast tea, and slip off by myself somewhere to scarf them all down. Okay, okay, I’ll share them with hubby. One for him, five for me. What? That’s fair!
Don’t forget to stop by A.C.’s blog, Tea Time with A.C. Cargill!