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Christmas: What were Victorian mince pies made from?

Who doesn’t love a mince pie? (Picture: Getty)

Christmas is a time for food and drinks, ranging from seasonal favourites such as cheese and wine, brussel sprouts and pigs in blankets.

But Christmas isn’t complete without a healthy supply of mince pies.

The sweet and spicy fruit mix housed in a crumbly pastry has been a Yuletide tradition for hundreds of years, with a history that can be traced back to the Tudor period.

But the humble mince pie has not always been the fruity mix that you have come to love, as the recipe dropped one key ingredient towards the end of the Victorian period.

So, what were Victorian mince pies made from?

Spoiler alert: They’re not suitable for vegetarians…

What were Victorian mince pies made from?

Victorian mince pies were a much meatier affair (Picture: Getty)

The one key ingredient that Victorian mince pies had at we rarely use today: meat.

The mincemeat mixture used to include minced beef in among the fruit, spices, and booze.

Alcohol proved to be a good way of preserving meat in a time before fridges – an alternative to salting, curing, smoking, or drying it.

While suet is still occasionally used in modern recipes, the use of meat began to be phased out in the latter half of the Victoria period as sugar became cheaper and easier to get thanks to the rise of sugarcane plantations in the West Indies.

Mince pies have been known under several names over the years.

‘Christmas pies’ indicate their popularity at this time of year, ‘shrid pies’ refer to the shredded suet and meat, and ‘crib cakes’ which allude to baby Jesus in his crib.

Here are the ingredients and recipe for a traditional Victorian mince pie from Mrs Rundle’s cookbook Modern Domestic Cookery, published in 1851:

Mincemeat:

  • 450g/1lb sirloin steak, finely chopped
  • 450g/1lb suet, grated
  • 4 large apples, peeled, core removed, flesh chopped
  • 1.35kg/3lb currants
  • ½ small loaf day-old bread, grated
  • Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
  • Ground cinnamon, to taste
  • Ground cloves, to taste
  • Ground ginger, to taste
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 450g/1lb sugar
  • 2 lemons, zest and juice
  • 3 large oranges, juice only
  • Candied peel, diced (optional)
  • 250ml/9fl oz brandy
  • 250ml/9fl oz ruby port

Short crust pastry:

  • 225g/8oz flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 115g/4oz butter or margarine, cut into cubes
  • Water, as necessary
  • 4-6 tsp milk
  • 1 tsp sugar

Recipe

  • Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.
  • Make the mincemeat: Mix all of the mincemeat ingredients together in a large bowl, using your hands, until well combined.
  • Transfer the mixture to a saucepan and heat over a very low heat for 3-5 hours, stirring occasionally until it has reduced to a thick, dark paste.
  • Make the shortcrust pastry: Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl. Add the butter or margarine cubes, then rub them into the flour using your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
  • Gradually add the water, a tablespoon at a time, stirring well until the mixture comes together as a stiff dough.
  • Fill the mince pies: Turn out the pastry onto a lightly floured work surface and knead well until smooth and elastic.
  • Roll out the pastry onto a lightly floured work surface to 1cm thickness. Using an upturned bowl, cut eight discs from the pastry. Reserve the remaining pastry.
  • Place a coffee mug into the centre of each pastry disc and draw the sides of the pastry up against the mug, overlapping the edges, to form free-standing pastry cases.
  • Divide the mincemeat evenly among the pastry cases.
Will you give the Victorian way a go this Christmas? (Picture: Getty)
  • Add lids to the mince pies: Roll out the remaining pastry onto a lightly floured work surface. Using the same mug as before, cut eight discs from the pastry to create four lids.
  • Place one pastry ‘lid’ on top of each pie, tucking the edges into the pastry case. Pinch the pastry together well to prevent the filling from leaking out during baking. Using a sharp knife, cut a cross into the top of each pastry lid to allow the steam to escape.
  • In a bowl, mix together the milk and sugar until the sugar has dissolved. Brush the top of each pie with this mixture.
  • Place into the oven: Place the mince pies onto a baking tray. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, or until the pastry is crisp and golden-brown.
  • Remove the pies from the oven and allow cool on a wire rack before tucking in.


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