Graphic: Karl Gustafson

England’s treasured mincemeat pies are an edible Ghost of Christmas Past. They’ve been a technical problem on The Great British Baking Show. They graced the tables of wealthy and poor alike in Victorian England—the period that, thanks partly to Charles Dickens, grew to become the idealized model of a correct Christmas backdrop.

Victorian England is additionally the place mincemeat pies developed their complicated identify: Today’s tarts are tiny affairs stuffed cloyingly candy dried fruit and aggressive spices, with not a speck of meat to be discovered. Though lots of our beloved Christmas traditions debuted within the Victorian Era—the piles of toys beneath an evergreen tree, the very idea of Santa Claus, the onslaught of Christmas playing cards that, in 2019, go straight within the trash—mince pies have been an current custom that merely developed into the pie we all know and love right this moment by dropping the bits of meat and suet that had given them their identify.

By the late 19th century, these bits have been fairly tiny and scarcely studded all through what had basically turn into a fruit pie. In the 18th century that they had been fairly a bit bigger, making a pie that was nonetheless fairly candy, however meant as a savory dish. Before that, within the late 17th century, the mincemeat pie was beloved not just for its taste but additionally what it stood for, as in 1644 Christmas had been banned by the Puritans, whose strict type of non secular affect had overtaken the nation.

To the Puritans, Christmas—a vacation meant to rejoice the delivery of Christ— was far too holly and far too jolly. Christmastime was a celebration that might final effectively over a month, a hedonist carnival of gluttony, revelry, tomfoolery, and overt shows of lust. There have been no fields to until and no crops to reap. It was the time when that yr’s provide of beer and wine had fermented to perfection and was ready to be uncorked; again then, Christmastime was extra akin to modern-day Mardi Gras celebrations. Social inversion was a well-liked type of merriment: males dressed like ladies, ladies dressed like males, masters would wait on their servants, and kids performed the a part of rulers and clergy.

But again to the mincemeat pie (which, on the time, was two phrases: “mince meat”). Most of the calendar yr was the season for grains and produce; winter was the season—the one season—for meat. It was close to not possible to slaughter and retailer prized animals for meat in every other month, as a result of hotter temperatures would trigger the meat to go dangerous. When the temperatures plummeted in December, the frequent folks may as soon as once more style recent meat earlier than preserving the majority of their butchery for the remainder of the yr by means of heavy salting and drying, remodeling it from one thing succulent and scrumptious into one thing that was meant to be thrown in a pot with different humble components. Meat pies have been so integral to the Christmas season that they, too, discovered themselves banned by the Puritans. An essay written within the early 1700s signifies that non secular zealots thought of micemeat pie to be “an Invention of the Scarlet Whore of Babylon, an Hodge-Podge of Superstition, Popery, the Devil and all his works.”

The earliest mincemeat pies on file have been true minced meat, with the ultra-wealthy including small quantities of unique dried fruits and spices that had been introduced from the Middle East by returning crusaders. The following—thought to have been written in 1430—is one of many oldest recipes for such a pie, discovered within the Harleian Manuscripts which can be preserved within the British Library:


Take buttys of Vele & mynce hem smal, or Porke, & placed on a potte; take Wyne, & caste ther-to pouder of Gyngere, Pepir, & Safroun, & Salt, & a lytle verthous, & do hem in a cofyn with yolkys of Eyroun, & kutte Datys & Roysonsys of Courance, Cloyws, Maces, & then ceuere skinny cofyn, & lat it bake tyl it’s y-now.”

Harleian Manuscript 279 (written about 1430)

After some trial and error, I have rewritten this recipe for contemporary instances, although maybe not trendy palates. I needed to expertise mince pies the way in which that they had been loved almost 600 years in the past. So, after a lot (a lot) analysis, I was capable of infer the ingredient measurements that, to medieval cooks, would have been decided by what that they had, and what they needed to point out off at their celebration.

The meat, in fact, is a very powerful a part of all of it, entrance and middle to totally benefit from the success of a freshly slaughtered pig. Dried fruits and spices would have been plentiful sufficient to be tasted (and proven off), however not overdone; this fashion, no matter prized amount had been acquired could possibly be savored so long as potential. The “cofyn” is a scorching water pastry crust, a dough that baked up so stiffly it could possibly be used as its personal pot. While not generally utilized in American cooking, it is nonetheless an integral a part of trendy British cooking, that means that it’s best to study extra about it not from me, however from Paul Hollywood.

This pie is a real feast that may feed no less than 12, with a taste that is uncommon at first however shortly turns into irresistible. It’s greatest served with a keg of ale, a complete barrel of wine, seven swans, six geese, 4 calling birds, three French hens, two turtledoves, and a spatchcocked partridge with pear sauce.

Photo: Allison Robicell

Medieval Mince Meat Pie

Serves 12 or extra

Mince Filling

  • 1 (6- or 7-lb.) pork shoulder roast (bone-in and skinless)
  • 1/2 lb. thick minimize bacon
  • 1/2 cup crimson wine
  • 2 pinches saffron
  • 2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • Four egg yolks
  • 1 tsp. floor ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. cloves
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 1/Four cups chopped dates
  • 1/2 cup dried black currants

Hot Water Pastry Crust

  • Four 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour
  • 1 Tbsp. kosher salt
  • 2 cups lard
  • 1 cup water

First, put together the pork 

Using a pointy knife, minimize the meat of the pork shoulder off the bone, eradicating any extra items of fats, gristle, or odd-looking bits. You don’t need to trim off a lot that it’s lean—you want a great quantity of pork fats in your pie—however the massive fats cap and a few silvery bits across the center could be lopped off. Don’t fear about being too fussy about butchering the meat, as you’re going to be mincing it. Just minimize it into tough chunks about 2″ or so.

Though it’s not how they did issues in 1430, one of the simplest ways to mince the pork is utilizing a meals processor. You don’t need it to be the consistency of floor meat, however mincing, pounding, and scraping the meat by hand is fairly a chore—be happy to do it that means if you need, although! Add solely a handful of pork shoulder to the meals processor at a time together with a strip of uncooked bacon, as barely way more than that is sufficient to jam up the blades. Pulse solely two or 3 times earlier than transferring the meat to a bigger bowl.

In a small cup, combine the saffron with 2 Tbsp. of scalding scorching water. Make a effectively within the middle of the minced pork; add the saffron, wine, egg yolks, and spices, and provides it a bit stir. Add the chopped dates and currants, then, utilizing your fingers, mush every thing up for a minute or so to make all of it come collectively. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate whilst you make the new water pastry.

Next, make the new water pastry

Use a wood spoon to combine the 2 flours and salt collectively in a big bowl. Put the water and lard in a saucepan and cook dinner over excessive warmth till melted, then pour into the dry components whereas stirring till a delicate dough kinds. Turn out onto a generously floured board and knead for a minute or so till all of it comes collectively. Divide the pastry into three items; put two items again into the bowl to make use of for the highest crust. Cover and put aside.

Assemble the mince pie

Preheat the oven to 350 levels. Put a 10″ springform pan on prime of a sheet pan; it doesn’t must be greased or lined.

Put the remaining ball of dough between two sheets of parchment and roll till about 1/4″ thick. Since hot water pastry stiffens as it cools, at this stage it will not be particularly easy to transfer it to the pan, as you could with a common pie dough. The pastry can be cut into smaller pieces to patchwork the bottom of the pan—once it’s lined, you can smoosh everything together as if you were working with Play-Doh. Continue lining the pan with dough scraps; when you run out, take the second ball of dough and repeat until there is an even 1/4″-thick crust on the underside and sides of the pan with a slight little bit of overhang.

Put the meat combination into the pan, ensuring it’s evenly distributed and never packed down.

Again, between items of parchment, roll out the ultimate portion of pastry right into a circle about 16″ wide. Remove the top sheet of parchment, carefully flip over onto the top of the pan, and peel off the bottom parchment. Crimp the top and bottom crusts together, trimming off excess dough and setting aside. Cut a hole at least 2″ broad within the middle of the highest crust to vent the pie.

Make a easy egg wash by beating an egg effectively with 2 Tbsp. of water and brush excessive of the pie. If you would like, make decorations out of the dough scraps and stick them to the pie, then egg wash.

Slide the sheet pan holding the very hefty mincemeat pie onto the middle rack of the oven. Bake for two hours, then permit to chill at room temperature for no less than 30 minutes earlier than serving. Can be served heat, room temperature, or chilly.

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