Why mince pies at Christmas?

If you’re like me, you’ve resisted the temptation of mince pies over the last few weeks and now that December is finally here, you’re enjoying the unique taste of these delicious pies.  For me, mince pies are the real start of Christmas – not the half-hearted attempts to sell them in October and November that have a sell-by date before December even gets here!

I have always wondered why it is that we only these pies at Christmas time and where the unusual name itself came from, so I thought I’d better find out!

Why mince pies at Christmas

Do mince pies actually contain any meat?

In a word – ‘no’.  However, this has not always been the case and they are thought to have evolved from a medieval pastry called ‘chewette’, which was made from chopped meat or liver, boiled eggs, ginger and dried fruit – sounds delicious doesn’t it!

The original ingredients are traceable to the 13th Century when returning European crusaders brought back with them Middle Eastern recipes that contained meats, fruits and spices.

By the 19th Century, mince pies no longer contained any meat and the pies developed into the recipe you largely see today, with ingredients of dried fruit, suet, spices and nuts made from sweet puff pastry or shortcrust pastry.

Why mince pies at Christmas?

To be honest, from everything I have read, it does not appear to be clear why these pies have become synonymous with Christmas.  Surprising considering that every year in Britain, we eat around 370 million pies over Christmas!

Some sources have suggested that this may have come about through the celebrating of Christ’s birthday with a pie containing spices from the Holy Land, hence the link to the European crusaders.  Others have argued that then three main spices in mince pies – cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves – represents the gifts of the three wise men.

However the link between mince pies and Christmas came about, I would suggest that the tradition of eating them at Christmas is here to stay (and I for one am very pleased with that!).

Are there any traditions and superstitions?

To avoid any bad luck over Christmas, there are several traditions and superstitions that you should be aware of (although I cannot confirm any are true!):

  • Always leave a mince pie out for Father Christmas
  • You should eat them in silence
  • You should make a wish when you eat your first mince pie of the year
  • It’s bad luck to cut a pie with a knife – always use a fork!
  • You should always stir the mincemeat clockwise – stirring the other way brings bad luck for the next year
  • Eating a mince pie on Christmas Day is not illegal!
  • You should never refuse one if offered!

Why mince pies at Christmas

Just in case you were wondering

When reading about why mince pies at Christmas, I came across the following information about the humble mince pies that you can use to attempt to impress friends and family:

  • During the Tudor time, mince pies were often larger and rectangular in shape and were referred to as a ‘coffin’ pie crust!  This shape could also have reflected the manger that Jesus slept in
  • Early mince pies were called mutton pie, shrid pie and Christmas pie
  • American mince pies are typically 3-4 times larger than those in Europe and that the filling of a mince pie is known as ‘fruitmince’, which is actually a more accurate name!
  • Mince pies is cockney rhyming slang for ‘eyes’

Recipe for mince pies

If you haven’t tried making your own mince pies, here is a great mince pie recipe for you to try at home.

Further reading

If you’ve read this far, you must really be interested! If you want to find out more, here are the articles I read:

http://www.sundaypost.com/that-s-life/honest-truth/christmas-traditions-why-you-must-never-refuse-a-mince-pie-1.169432
http://www.englishteastore.com/history-mince-pie.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mince_pie
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/10476667/Potted-histories-mince-pies.html
http://www.whychristmas.com/customs/mincepies.shtml

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