A humble history
The mince pie didn’t always look as it does today. More than that, neither did it taste quite the same nor did it have the same name. It’s had quite the overhaul. So far as food historians can see, it all began in the 13th century when European crusaders returned from the Middle East with recipes of meat, fruit and spices all combined into one dish, often referred to as a mutton pie. The Tudors took the idea of mutton pie and used rabbit or shredded beef, instead calling it a Shred pie. We can begin to see where the term ‘mincemeat’ for the filling might have stemmed from. The Tudors also played with the shape of the pie, favouring large, rectangular forms, and in the 17th and 18th century the size shrunk somewhat and the pastry was cut into an array of shapes from stars to circles. The taste started to become sweeter too. And by the 19th century the more modern notion of the mince pie was established, although meat is still sometimes used in savoury versions as an ode to times gone by. How the mince pie became so intrinsically linked to Christmas is unclear. Some say the three chief spices (cinnamon, nutmeg and clove) are a reference to the gifts of the Three Kings. Others say it’s a mere coincidence. But what we do know is that somehow, it doesn’t feel quite like Christmas without them.