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mince-pies

Nearly everyone loves pie, so when you hear about having pie during the holidays, it turns some heads. While beloved pies like apple and pumpkin are served during the holidays, mince pies are the true holiday crowd pleaser. Mince pies have been around since the 1600s and believe it or not, they were originally filled with actual meat! Love them or hate them, it’s not Christmas to many without a mince pie! In the US, not too many people have heard of mince pies or even know that they are a major part of the holidays but in the UK, it’s not Christmas without them. The mince (or mincemeat) is made of dried fruits, peels, bits of apple, along with distilled spirits like brandy, and spices.

In the UK, mince pies come in bite size and usually in packs of 6, 9 or 12. Sometimes the pies are decorated beautifully in pastry, with shapes like stars or holly cut into them. In the US, some markets sell what are dubbed as “mini” pies, because mincemeat pies are sold as a whole entire pie to cut and share. Suet, which is a type of animal fat, is also commonly used in many made-from-scratch mincemeat recipes.

When it comes to getting a mince pie fix, some simply go to the grocery store to pick up their mince pies. Others like to make their own by using either homemade or jarred mincemeat, and using either store bought pastry or pastry made from scratch. To make mini pies, some use muffin tins and for a large pie, others use a whole pie plate. Add just a dusting of powdered sugar and you’ve got yourself a nice holiday treat!

However, when it comes to popularity, mince pies are not too common in the United States. You won’t find them as easily as you would in the UK. It’s not a common part of the holiday tradition here as it is on the other side of the pond but you can always keep it going or even start it if you have not had them before!

-CD

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mexicoOver the recent years, I have been learning new Christmas traditions and rituals in other parts of the world, particularly the UK. In one of my recent posts, I talked about Christmas crackers which was something new to me. Growing up in California, Christmas was a totally different thing. For one, we didn’t have snow unless we went up to the mountains and the ski resorts, so our holidays were usually perfectly sunny and clear or gray and rainy. With my dad being from Mexico and having spent a Christmas one year with his relatives, we celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve with tamales until midnight on Christmas day when we got to open our presents. Then after the births of my nieces and nephews, we started doing Christmas presents late in the day instead of the morning because we waited for my oldest sister to arrive from her husband’s family’s traditions. We switched up the days we did Christmas. Some years it was Christmas Eve, other years it was Christmas Day. Usually it depended on the circumstances of my oldest sister.

In today’s post as a part of my holiday series, I’m going to talk about traditions. My family doesn’t have an entirely regular tradition but at least we all try to get together for the holidays. I’m trying to incorporate more tradition into my life, like eat tamales, try to watch A Christmas Story and Elf at least once a year, and to try something new, like the Christmas Crackers which the nieces and nephews really enjoyed.

MinceWhile people in the US have their own traditions and customs, the British have something a little more different. The British call Santa Claus “Father Christmas” who will leave presents in stockings or pillow cases at the ends of the beds, by the beds of the children, or by the fireplace in homes. Instead of the standard milk and cookies left out for Father Christmas, he gets a nice brandy and mince pie. Letters are written to Father Christmas but instead of being put to the post, they are tossed into the fireplace where the smoke is drifted to Father Christmas so he can read them. The people of Britain also send Christmas cards, buy gifts, sing carols. The Queen delivers a Christmas Day message to the Commonwealth broadcast from her home reflecting on the year gone by.

cakeAnother thing the British and Americans have in common is that nearly everyone bakes and eat goodies for the holidays. While the Americans make Christmas cookies, fudge, and peppermint bark, the British celebrate the holidays with mince pies, Christmas puddings, and the Christmas cake. Today I will talk about the mince pie.  In the US, these are relatively unknown but huge in Britain. A mince pie nowadays consists of candied peels, vine fruits like currant and sultanas, which is a type of raisin in Britain, and apples inside a pastry crust. These are the most common ingredients inside the mincemeat. You can enjoy them hot or cold and you can either make them yourself (a lovely recipe here on our very own blog and get the mincemeat here or even try these.

Mince pies originally had various chopped meats in them, hence the name mincemeat pie. It is believed mince pies were made to use to use up leftovers in the 16th century in order to keep the meat supply going but over the years, the recipes have been adjusted to what people know today. The pies were originally oblong in shape to represent the cradle of the Christ but they are round today and the meat has been omitted.

Next time I will discuss Christmas cake and Christmas pudding.

~CD

It’s the holiday season, and that means mince pies are back in stock in those brick-and-mortar stores as well as online. (For some strange reason, they become quite scarce during the rest of the year.)

Hoppers Mini Mince Pies (ETS image)

Hoppers Mini Mince Pies (ETS image)

Mince pie has been a holiday tradition for centuries, going back as far as the early 1400s and were served at the coronation of King Henry V of Britain in 1413. At that time, these pies actually were mince meat pies (such as chicken, pigeon, pheasant, rabbits, ox or lamb parts, and mutton) where the spices (brought back to Britain by the Medieval Crusaders) and dried fruits we are familiar with today were used to help preserve the meat in the pies (along with suet and brandy or rum). A variation of this pie was called the “Crib Pie,” oblong in shape and with a little pastry “Baby Jesus” in the middle of the top crust.

Since mince pies were associated with the Catholic religion and the British monarchy, when Oliver Cromwell, a Puritan, came to power around 1657, he banned them. When they were finally re-instituted, they were smaller sized, more of an individual portion for serving to guests, and renamed Wayfarer Pies.

How to Enjoy This Treat This Year

Those of you who have a lot of energy, time, and, most importantly, cooking talent will want to make your mince pies from scratch. Recipes abound online, or you may have one passed down to you through past generations. Nothing beats fresh baked anything during the holidays, but fresh mince pies are the best!

Others of us who want to take a shortcut and/or assure a better tasting filling (a testament to our low-level cooking skills) will use the pre-made kind. I tend to like the Robertsons Mincemeat, chock full of good things (a variety of fruits from apples, raisins, and sultanas, to candied orange and lemon peel, plus spices and other ingredients) and alcohol-free. But there are other equally good brands to suit any taste preference.

Of course, you can always go for the pre-made mini-mince pies. There are several brands to choose from:

All of these are good either warmed up or cold and taste even better with a dollop of clotted cream or Devon cream. And don’t forget that steaming cup of tea to wash it all down!

See also: Prepping for the Holidays — Mince for All

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Walkers Luxury Fruit Mince Tarts - 6 Pack - 371g (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

Walkers Luxury Fruit Mince Tarts – 6 Pack – 371g (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

Mince pies are one of those holiday traditions that have changed over the years but continue to thrill many who can’t wait until these seasonal treats are once again in stock. Hubby and I are among those who make sure we have plenty on hand every year!

Mince pies were originally “mincemeat” pies where they were filled with meats such as chicken, partridge, pigeon, hare, capon, pheasant, rabbits, ox or lamb tongue, livers of the animals, and mutton meat mixed with fruits, peels, and sugar. It was also large and oblong in shape, resembling a baby’s cradle. They could also be baked and kept for as long as two months, according to Quaker Elizabeth Ellicott Lea in her book Domestic Cookery that was published in 1853. Over time, they became smaller… and round… and filled with fruits and other flavorings… but no meat. Who says there’s no such thing as evolution, at least as far as cooking is concerned!

You can make your own of course, but why? Hubby and I just stock up on Walkers Luxury Fruit Mince Tarts. We’re now finishing off last year’s supply and need to restock from the fresh supply coming in to stores. What’s the appeal? Their very traditional fruity and tangy filling. If you love raisins, you’ll love these. Try them hot or cold and served with clotted cream, custard, or ice cream.

Robertson’s Mincemeat (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

Robertson’s Mincemeat (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

But if you really want to do your own, start with one of these ready mixes:

  • Robertson’s Mincemeat — A popular brand that is a ready mix mincemeat for baking your own pies. The name is misleading, since this product contains no meat. It contains sugar, fruits (apples, raisins, sultanas), candied mixed peel (corn syrup, orange peel, sugar, lemon peel, citric acid), palm oil, treacle, currants, sunflower oil, acetic acid, rice flour, spices, citric acid, ascorbic acid, and salt.
  • Norfolk Manor Mincemeat — A great tasting mincemeat imported from England, and perfect for baking your own mince pies. This mincemeat filling is also perfect for making turnovers, adding to stuffing, or filling a crown roast of pork. Suitable for vegetarians, this mincemeat is a blend of dried fruits, candied citron, sugar, spices, and vegetable shortening.
Norfolk Manor Mincemeat - 14.5oz (411g) (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

Norfolk Manor Mincemeat – 14.5oz (411g) (Photo source: The English Tea Store)

If you do end up making your own mincemeat, you can make it a family event by following some traditions:

  • Family members take turns stirring the mince mixture clockwise (to be like the Sun’s path thru the sky) while making a wish (this is an English custom). Stirring anti-clockwise is considered unlucky and may bring bad luck for the New Year.
  • Have your children leave a mince pie or two out for “Father Christmas” (what we call “Santa Claus”) by the chimney for him to eat while dropping off those presents and filling those stockings.
  • Share a mince pie or two on each of the twelve days of Christmas to bring your family good luck.

Want a meat version of this treat that is more like the original version? Try this recipe for Sunnyside Mincemeat Pie.

Whatever your choice, have a jolly mince time!

See also:
History of Mince Pie
Mince Pie Mania

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Cherry BakewellsMince pies and bakewells and cakes, oh my — you’ll find these and more in the Mr. Kipling product lineup. This British company has been busy baking and bringing scrumptious joy to several generations now. During the winter holidays, they are especially popular.

Forty-three years ago a revolution in how people shopped for their fine baked goods took place in Britain. Mr. Kipling cakes and tarts were introduced to supermarkets with their ads proclaiming them to be “Exceedingly Good Cakes.” It must have been true since nine years later they were the market leader in the UK and have held that position to this day. During the brand’s long history, ownership of the company that makes it has changed. Today, the brand is one of many marketed by Premier Foods, but the baked goodies are still produced by Manor Bakeries Ltd., a subsidiary of Premier Foods since 2007 and the original maker.

In case you’re wondering, there is no Mr. Kipling. Like many brand names (such as “Aunt Jemima”), that’s all it is, i.e., a brand name, meant to give the brand a more personal touch. In fact, the iconic mister has never shown his face, even in TV ad spots. Even the introduction of a “Mrs. Kipling” a few months back in a new ad campaign in the UK did not reveal him; he remained a mystery, seen only in the background busily baking those yummy cakes and tarts.

Even so, 60% of UK households have a stash of Mr. Kipling products on hand for teatime.

The most popular Mr. Kipling product is the Cherry Bakewell. But what the heck is a bakewell? Well, that depends. Sometimes it’s a baked snack. There are several kinds, with the cherry kind being a small cake, covered with a top layer of icing and having a half-cherry “eye” centered in that icing. Sometimes, “Bakewell” is the name of a town in Derbyshire, a county in Britain. The town claims to be the home of this tasty treat.

What’s so special about these little cakes and tarts? First, the company sets high standards, producing some of the highest quality pre-packaged baked snacks around. Second, they only use natural ingredients, with hydrogenated vegetable oil being phased out in favor of more healthy oils.

For the winter holidays, Mr. Kipling cranks up production of their mince pies (both crust topped and icing topped) and Christmas Cake, which is a moister alternative to the heavy fruitcakes so popular this time of year and with a white icing that is as flavorful as it is attractive. Plus, they make a wonderfully moist rum and raisin cake that’s sure to add a bit of fun to your holiday. Woo hoo!

During the rest of the year, they bake tons of lemon slices, apple tarts, Angel Slices, Bakewell Slices, and more. The company is known as an innovator, so who knows what they’ll come up with next?

One thing is for sure, teatime is not the same without ’em. You may never eat Twinkies again. Enjoy!

Don’t miss A.C.’s blog, Tea Time with A.C. Cargill!

Mince Meat FillingMince 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.

Mince PiesIn 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!

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© Online Stores, LLC, and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, LLC., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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