Mince pies, originally called Christmas pies, were traditionally filled with a mixture of dried fruits and meat; the only remnant of that in mincemeat now is suet, and many people use vegetable suet or butter. It is said that if you eat a mince-pie for every day of the twelve days of Christmas then you will have happiness, luck and good fortune through the following year. I’m not superstitious but this one tradition I do follow wholeheartedly!!
I wrote about Eliza Acton’s 1845 recipe for mincemeat, her own receipt, which included a pound of ox-tongue or sirloin steak. Eliza does, however also include a recipe for ‘superlative mincemeat, and mince pies.
Take four large lemons, with their weight of golden pippins pared and cored, of jar-raisins, currants, candied citron and orange rind, and the finest suet, and a fourth part of pounded sugar. Boil the lemons until tender, chop them small, but be careful to first extract all the pips; add them to the other ingredients, after all have been prepared with great nicety, and mix the whole well with from three to four glasses of good brandy. Apportion salt and spice by the preceding receipt (two small nutmegs, half an ounce of salt, a large teaspoonful of pounded mace, rather more of ginger in powder) We think that the weight of one lemon, in meat, improves this mixture; or, in lieu of it, a small quantity of crushed macaroons added just before it is baked.
Eliza makes her mince pies with puff pastry, with an inch thick top. She suggests they may be iced before cooking – I think she must have a different idea of icing from what we have today; she also says that they should be covered with paper halfway through so they don’t get too brown – which is the way my mum used to make them.
Eliza also has a recipe for Mince Pies Royal; she adds an ounce and a half of sugar to half a pound of mincemeat, plus the juice of one lemon, an ounce of clarified butter, and four egg yolks. She pours the mixture into pastry cases and when they are nearly cooked she makes a meringue – a ‘snow’ as she calls it, which she puts on top to cook to ‘a fine light brown’.