Mince pies are very medieval in their nature. These rich tarts, filled with dried fruits and spices soaked in alcohol, were a status symbol as only the rich could afford these delicacies. Mince pies are filled with mincemeat – minced meat – and that immediately gives us an insight into the history of this tart. There used to be meat in Mince pies, but nowadays only the suet or kidney fat reminds us of the ‘meaty’ history of this pie. Beef was used in the filling, but also veal or ox tongue and mutton. The latter is, in my opinion, the best combination, although lamb also works well in combination with the spices and fruits and for most people it’s much easier to obtain than mutton.
The first cookbook in the English language, The Forme Of Cury from around 1390, contains various recipes for similar tarts, some even with white fish or salmon instead of meat. The Tarte Of Fleshe in
In the 17th and 18th centuries, Mince pies became much smaller and were made in various shapes and then placed together on a serving dish so that all shapes formed a whole, as if they were different parts of a decorative puzzle.
Although Mince pies made their appearance on every major festive occasion, they have been connected to Christmas since the 19th century. During the Victorian period, Mince pies were made with a base of shortcrust and a top of puff pastry. Only since the 20th century has the meat finally disappeared from the Mince pie recipes in cookbooks. Today only one pastry is used at a time, either shortcrust (which has become traditional) or puff pastry (which is rarely seen).
The combination of fruits and spices is often diverse, but raisins, currants and candied lemon, cedro and/or orange peel are standard. Some old recipes also contain prunes, dates, figs or candied ginger. Spices are usually cinnamon, cloves, mace and nutmeg. There is always grated apple or pear and sometimes also lemon or orange juice – mostly from Seville oranges (these are very acidic and also the basis for English marmalade).
You can make the mincemeat in this large quantity and store it in the fridge for up to 6 months in sterilised preserving jars. It’s best made a month in advance so that the flavours can mature. You can use it for different recipes in this book, such as the Cumberland rum nicky and the Eccles cakes.
These tarts are made with a finer shortcrust pastry than the other tarts in this book.
Put all the ingredients for the mincemeat in a bowl and add the brandy or rum to cover the fruit. Stir well, then let it rest overnight. The next day, stir again and then divide among sterilised preserving jars.
To make the pastry, mix the flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Rub the butter into the mixture with your fingers until it is the consistency of fine breadcrumbs. Add the water and egg yolk and knead until the mixture comes together into a smooth dough. Alternatively, use a food processor to make the pastry. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest for 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
Briefly knead the pastry until smooth, then pat it into a rectangle and roll it out to a thickness of
Knead the remaining dough back together and roll it out to cut out the lids – you can choose whichever shape you like, but stars are the most traditional.
Divide the filling among the tarts and press down gently. Place the lids on top and brush with the egg wash.
Serve warm or cold.
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