Today, December 16th …
Today is the traditional beginning of the mince(meat) pie season, so if you haven’t organised your supply by now, it is almost too late.
We don't put meat in our mincemeat now, partly because we have lost our taste for sweet-savoury foods, but also because we no longer need to preserve meat this way. A pie with a thick crust, unless it got damp or cracked, would keep meat for a long time before refrigeration.
Mince pies evolved from the special occasion “plum porridge” mixture that also gave us Christmas cake and pudding. At Christmas, the “ goodly litter of the cupboard, thus various in kind and aspect, was carefully swept into one common receptacle; the mingled mass enveloped in pastry and enclosed within the duly heated oven … ” and Lo! Mince Pies!
They were briefly banned during the Puritan era, along with everything else that was fun, one killjoy writer even going so far as to describe them as “idolatry in crust”, but thankfully they were restored to the Christmas menu with the Restoration of the monarchy. Sometimes they were very large, and the envy of foreign visitors to England, such as the Frenchman M. Misson. In 1698 he wrote that "Every family against Christmas makes a famous Pye, which they call Christmas Pye. It is a great Nostrum the Composition of this Pasty. It is a most learned Mixture of Neats-tongues, Chicken, Eggs, Sugar, Raisins, Lemon and Orange Peel, various kinds of Spices etc."
If you want extra Christian symbolism with your traditional pie, you can make them crib-shaped (they used to also be called “crib pies”) to represent the manger, and add three spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves) to represent the gifts of the three wise men. If you want extra secular tradition with the tradition, eat one every day of the twelve days of Christmas (until January 6th) to have twelve lucky months.
In Queensland of course, at this time of the year “the goodly litter of the cupboard” includes mangoes, so here is a mincemeat recipe from the Australian Women’s Mirror in 1932.
Peel and slice enough green mangoes to make, when run through mincer 1 cup of pulp (minus excess juice). Add ½ cup sugar, 1 cup currants, 1 cup raisins cut up finely, 2 heaped Tabs. Home-made orange marmalade, 1 heaped Tbs. Butter and 1 ½ tsp. Mixed spice. Mix thoroughly.
On Monday: Some baloney about Bologna.
2006 Update: There is a collection of Vintage Christmas Recipes HERE.