It’s around this time of year that social media is inundated with blog posts on the origins of various Christmas traditions and food is no exception. The history of the humble mince pie has been covered dozens of times elsewhere so I won’t go into that now. It’s enough to say that in the medieval period they were big, they were savory and they contained actual meat. Being a bit of a pie lover and always game for a bit of practical research, I decided to make one.
The recipe I used can be found at the English Heritage site so I won’t bother replicating it here. It’s from A Book of Cookrye Very necessary for all such as delight therin published in 1591 so technically its more of a Tudor mince pie than a medieval one but I can’t imagine much changed in a hundred years. It contains mutton, suet, raisins and prunes and is spiced with mace, pepper and cloves. Spices like these began to appear in England during the crusades and were phenomenally expensive making the mince pie a treat to be enjoyed by the wealthy only on special occasions such as Christmas. There is also a theory that the method of cooking meat with fruit was also introduced to England during the crusades as those returning from the east brought back such foreign culinary customs (the tagine dishes of North Africa spring to mind).
I had no idea what to expect but was pleasantly surprised. It gave off a very unique aroma as it was cooking but fortunately tasted better than it smelled although I have to say that it was very greasy. The mixture of meat and fruit is something of an acquired taste but overall it wasn’t a bad dish. Even my wife (who is always skeptical of having medieval recipes tested out on her) went in for second helpings.