So what in the world are mincemeat and mince pies?

by Melinda

Ever wonder how serving mince pie for dessert became a Christmas tradition?  Now granted, it’s probably not as popular in America as it once was.  But since this site is about celebrating an old-fashioned Christmas . . . I had to cover this topic.

This tradition is clearly linked to an old-fashioned Christmas: Food historians date mincemeat pies back to Medieval Times – the sixth century!

Basically “mincing” means to chop finely or to chop into tiny pieces.

Originally mincemeat pies did include meat along with dried fruits, sugar and spices.

And centuries ago mincemeat pies were a smart way to use leftover meat, stretch the protein supply (which was often quite lean for many times of the year), and it added variety to the menu.

In other words, it was a practical way to make a small portion of leftover meat into a dish – a pie – large enough to make a meal.  To be precise, the cook would likely make several mincepies because it is believe that the original forms were almost always small.

Think of how we use leftover turkey or chicken to make a pot pie. Same idea.

Back to history. These Medieval pastries were known as a “chewette.” This is a wild guess on my part … but I can’t help but wonder if the name chewette is an indication of how hard they were to chew. Hmm.

Enough personal speculation. Chewettes had chopped meat (perhaps liver), or fish on days of fasting. The meat or fish was mixed with chopped hard-boiled egg and ginger and then baked or fried.

In time it became common to “spice” up the filling with dried fruit and other sweet ingredients.

And by the 16th Century these minced or shred pies had become a Christmas tradition … something special served on this important religious feast.  Over the next 300 years the meat was either partially or completely replaced by suet until it had disappeared completely in both England and the United States.

Yes, it was during the mid-19th Century that a distinction developed between mincemeat and mince. The meat was gone which left the fruit (usually raisins, currants, etc.), nut, sugar, spice and suet version we know today. And some of today’s recipes even include alcohol as one of the ingredients!

By the way, in Colonial America these pies were made in the fall and sometimes frozen throughout winter.

Mince Pies for Christmas

Mince Pies for Christmas

Today in England mince pie is a miniature round pie for one person.

It’s filled with mincemeat: typically a mixture of dried fruits, chopped nuts and apples, suet, spices, and lemon juice, vinegar, or brandy.

In North America the pie may be larger, to serve several people.

There you have it. The Christmas tradition of mincemeat and mince pies along with its history. Have you ever eaten, made or served mince pie? Share your experience by adding a comment in the box below. Thanks!

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