December 24, Christmas Eve.
Samuel Pepys arrived home from the office on this day in 1663 to find his wife making mince-pies. The traditions of mince pies for Christmas was already well established by the mid-seventeenth century, and Pepys mentions them in other diary entries – noting, a few years later when he was more prosperous, the servants (“my people”) helping his wife with this project.
Mince pies originally contained meat, as we found out in our December 2005 story – which also touched on the symbolic meaning attached to the making and eating of pies. There is an almost infinite variety of recipes for mincemeat – even “mock” mincemeat – and several appear in the Vintage Christmas recipe archive.
The cookbook of Robert May – The Accomplish’t Cook – was very popular in Pepys time and I like to think that perhaps Mrs. Pepys knew of it. May gives several recipes for mince pies, with “French” and “Italian” versions included. There are no caraway seeds in these “foreign” recipes as there are in two out of three of the pies of unspecified heritage (caraway seeds were particularly beloved of the English): the “Italian” version presumably gets its nationality from the use of saffron, but I cant hazard a guess as to what makes the other one “French”. Elizabeth Pepys was of French Huguenot stock, so she might have been able to tell us.
Minced in the French fashion, called Pelipate, or in English Petits, made of Veal, Pork, or Lamb, or any kind of Venison, Beef, Poultrey, or Fowl.
Mince them with lard, and being minced, season them with salt, and a little nutmeg, mix the meat with some pine-apple-seed, and a few grapes or gooseberries; fill the pies and bake them, being baked liquor them with a little gravy.
Sometimes for variety in the Winter time, you may use currans instead of grapes or gooseberries, and yolks of hard eggs minced among the meat.
Minced Pies in the Italian Fashion.
Parboil a leg of veal, and being cold mince it with beef-suet, and season it with pepper, salt, and gooseberries; mix with it a little verjuyce, currans, sugar, and a little saffron in powder.
[Remember – traditions says it is good luck to eat one mince pie on each of the twelve days of Christmas, to bring good luck for each of the succeeding twelve months. ]
Tomorrow’s Story …
Alternative Christmas Menus.
Quotation for the Day …
It is a great Nostrum the composition of this Pasty ["Christmas Pye"]; it is a most learned Mixture of Neats-tongues, Chickens, Eggs, Sugar, Raisins, Lemon and Orange Peel, various kinds of Spicery, etc. M. Mission, French visitor to