I find the history of food fascinating, take for example mince pies. On hearing the name, one might imagine it meant mince meat, but of course we mean fruit mince. But the history of these pies will enlighten you to how they got their name and why. Here's it is in brief….

This pie is a remnant of a medieval tradition of spiced meat dishes, usually minced mutton, that have survived because of its association with Christmas. These pies have also been known as Christmas Pies. Mince pie as part of the Christmas table had long been an English custom.

11th Century - The Christmas pie came about at the time when the Crusaders were returning from the Holy Land. They brought home a variety of oriental spices. It was important to add three spices (cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg) for the three gifts given to the Christ child by the Magi. In honour of the birth of the Savoir, the mince pie was originally made in an oblong casings (coffin or cradle shaped), with a place for the Christ Child to be placed on top. The baby was removed by the children and the manger (pie) was eaten in celebration. These pies were not very large, and it was thought lucky to eat one mince pie on each of the twelve days of Christmas (ending with Epiphany, the 6th of January).

Over the years, the pies grew smaller, the shape of the pie was gradually changed from oblong to round, and the meat content was gradually reduced until the pies were simply filled with a mixture of suet, spices and dried fruit, previously steeped in brandy. This filling was put into little pastry cases that were covered with pastry lids and then baked in an oven. Essentially, this is today's English mince pie.

1413 - King Henry V of England served a mincemeat pie at his coronation in 1413. King Henry VIII liked his Christmas pie to be a main-dish pie filled with mincemeat.

1545 - A cookbook from the mid 16th century that also includes some account of domestic life, cookery and feasts in Tudor days, called A Proper newe Booke of Cokerye, declarynge what maner of meates be beste in season, for al times in the yere, and how they ought to be dressed, and serued at the table, bothe for fleshe dayes, and fyshe dayes, has a recipe for a pie that sounds alot like a modern day mincemeat pie:

To make Pyes - Pyes of mutton or beif must be fyne mynced and ceasoned wyth pepper and salte, and a lyttle saffron to coloure it, suet or marrow a good quantite, a lyttle vyneger, prumes, greate raysins and dates, take thefattest of the broathe of powdred beyfe, and yf you wyll have paest royall, take butter and yolkes of egges and so tempre the flowre to make the paeste.

1588 - In the1588 Good Hous-Wiues Treasurie by Edward Allde, meats were still cut up to be eaten with a spoon and combined with fruits and heavy spices. Typical was his recipe for Minst Pye which used practically the same ingredients that go into a modern mince pie.

1657 - Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), the self-proclaimed Lord Protector of England from 1649 until 1658, detested Christmas as a pagan holiday (one not sanctioned by the Bible, that promoted gluttony and drunkenness). Oliver Cromwell's Puritan Council abolished Christmas on December 22, 1657. In London, soldiers were ordered to go round the streets and take, by force if necessary, food being cooked for a Christmas celebration. The smell of a goose being cooked could bring trouble. Cromwell considered pies as a guilty, forbidden pleasure. The traditional mincemeat pie was banned. King Charles II (1630-1685) restored Christmas when he ascended the throne in 1660.

1646 - In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, mince pies, sometimes known as shred or secrets pies, were made in eccentric shapes. Maybe this was done to originally hide the fact that these were actually mince pies which were banned during the Christmas celebration in England, and possibly the tradition just continued for many years. In the 1646 ballad, The World Turned Upside Down by Thomason Tracts, one verse of the song refers to "shred pie." The song was written bewailing Parliament's ban on Christmas:

1659 - In 1659, Oliver Cromwell's Puritan influence spread across the Atlantic ocean to American British Colonies, and many towns of New England went so far as to actually ban mincemeat pies at Christmas time. Christmas was actually banned in Boston from 1659 to 1681. Those celebrating it were fined.

1853 - Quaker Elizabeth Ellicott Lea explained in her book called Domestic Cookery that was published in 1853: "Where persons have a large family, and workmen on a farm, these pies are very useful." By useful, she meant that the pies could be baked in large numbers, and more importantly, during cold weather, they could be kept for as long as two months. The mincemeat could be made ahead and kept even longer.

Happy Cooking!