Mincemeat pies, traditionally eaten during Thanksgiving and Christmas, don’t really contain any meat at all. Although some recipes or jars that are bought in still contain suet. Suet is the fat from around the kidneys and loins of beef and mutton.
Original mincemeat pies did contain meat. It is said that in the 11th Century, crusaders returned from the holy lands with spices and the concept of baked cradle-shaped pies containing meat, spices and fruit with a pastry effigy of the baby Jesus on the top. The three spices of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg were meant to represent the three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. By the reign of Henry VIII, the mincemeat pie had developed into a big, hearty main course containing much more minced meat than fruit and it was he who proclaimed Christmas a day of feasting in England. Unfortunately, by 1657 the Puritan Oliver Cromwell was in charge of England and much like Dr Seuss’s Grinch – he stole Christmas. He sent his soldiers out to round up all of the festive food including mincemeat pies. By 1659, the loss of Christmas had spread to New England where they also banned the pies and Boston banned Christmas altogether until 1681. Over the years, mincemeat pies became smaller and contained ever decreasing amounts of meat but more spices. By the 19th Century they became what we know them to be today.
In the Kitchen
There are of course hundreds of recipes for making mincemeat but they are all basically dried fruit, such as raisins and sultanas, apple, nuts, citrus peel, suet, sugar, spices and brandy. In Britain they are baked into small double crust pies and children traditionally leave one on a plate with a glass of sherry for Santa on Christmas Eve. Other versions include stuffing mincemeat into cored apples and baking or using meat as a layer to the base of an apple pie. Occasionally, mincemeat is used to replace ingredients in a fruitcake recipe or even used to make delicious mincemeat ice-cream.
It is said to be lucky to eat one pie on each of the twelve days of Christmas but that wasn’t enough for Sonya Thomas of Virginia who in 2006 broke the world record for eating a whopping 46 mincemeat pies in ten minutes. Now that wouldn’t be as easy as pie.
Photos courtesy of Flickr - Community Friend, Wallyg and graphxgru