The History of Mince Pies (2024)

Decorated trees, snow men, mince pies - there are some things that just define Christmas. But how is it that a meaty pudding from the Middle Ages has come to play such a central role in our modern Christmas celebrations? Let’s explore the history of mince pies – maybe while biting into a freshly warmed Walkers mince pie of your own?

Mince pies throughout history

For hundreds of years the delicious mince pie has been enjoyed as a tasty, warming and filling treat - early on as a main dish, now most often to finish off a meal or to serve up as a treat. Warm, spicy mincemeat and the crisp pastry crust complement each other, and also go beautifully with a spoonful or two of whipped cream or a cold scoop of vanilla ice cream. But that’s not always been the case.

The History of Mince Pies (1)

The reason mincemeat is called meat is because that’s exactly what it used to be: most often mutton, but also beef, rabbit, pork or game. Mince pies were first served in the early middle ages, and the pies were quite sizeable, filled with a mixture of finely minced meat, chopped up fruit and a preserving liquid. Mincemeat originally came about as a good way of preserving meat, without salting, curing, smoking or drying it.

In 1413, King Henry V served a mincemeat pie at his coronation. Henry the VII was fond of the meaty Christmas pie as a main dish, filled with minced meat and fruit. Mince pies have been known under several names over the years. Christmas pyes indicate their popularity at this time of year, shrid pies refer to the shredded suet and meat, crib cakes which allude to baby Jesus in his crib, and wayfarer’s pies, as they were a traditional treat served to travelling visitors. They have been referred to as mince pies in literature by countless dignitaries and important historical figures.

Today’s mince pies bear little resemblance to the early versions, but as the recipes, methods and ingredients available have developed over the years, we have ended up with a tasty treat using the finest ingredients, made in the same way it has been for years – but quite a difference from the original recipes driven more by necessity than by delight. The same can be said for shortbread. The sweet, crumbly version that Walkers has made since 1899 is certainly traditional, but the original shortbreads would be a far cry from the delicious treat available today. Read more about the history of shortbread, or tuck in to a historic treat by ordering your Christmas favourites here!

Traditions, folklore and superstitions

As with many traditional recipes, especially the ones we make and enjoy around big holidays or life events, mince pies are steeped with tradition and customs. Mincemeat would often be made on stir-up Sunday along with the Christmas pudding, the last Sunday before Advent. (As a side note, did you know the Christmas pudding also originally had meat in it?) Stirring the mincemeat was quite an event, and English tradition dictates that it should only be stirred clockwise. Stirring the mincemeat anti-clockwise would lead to bad luck and poor fortune in the coming 12 months. To spread the joy, it was tradition in England that each member of the family gave the mixture a stir, while making a wish. And if you wanted to be ensure good health and happiness in the upcoming year, you should eat one mince pie every day for the Twelve Days of Christmas, from Christmas Eve until the 5th of January. Make sure you buy a whole case of mince pies to ensure everyone a happy 2017!

The History of Mince Pies (2)

The reasons mince pies are so intricately linked with Christmas is complex. With its original content of meat and fats, it was superb for eating in the lean, dark winter months. A warm mince pie would feed you well and keep you happy as the storms raged outside the window! The trio of spices used, nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon, is said to be symbolic of the gifts given to the Baby Jesus by the three wise men in Bethlehem. Originally, mince pies were often made in an oval shape, reminiscent of the crib in the manger where Christ was born, while the top represented the cloth he was swaddled in. Later on, different shapes became ways of showing off the skill of the best pastry makers, who would create intricate mince pies with stars, crescents, hearts, flowers and sugar knot gardens.

Mince pies today

The History of Mince Pies (3)

It’s been a while since meat featured in the commercial sweet and spice mince pie treats we know and love. Today, the Luxury Mince Pies made by Walkers are filled with a warming spiced fruit mix with plenty of currants, sultanas, apples and candied peel. There's no meat in our mince meat pies and all our mince pies are suitable for vegetarians, and encased in the best quality shortcrust pastry, with just the right level of crumbliness. There’s also a mini mince pie version available, which are a bite-sized treat for canapéstyle desserts. And if you want to try something slightly different, the uniquely flavoured Orange and Cranberry Mince Pies are going down a treat, filled with plump cranberries, tangy orange peel, juicy vine fruits and warming spices.

It is still a keen tradition that children leave out mince pies for Father Christmas by the fireplace, often with a glass of whisky or brandy – and a carrot for Rudolph. (Read more about typical gifts for Santa around the world in this blog piece.) Share the joy of mince pies with everyone!

Enjoy your mince pies over Christmas!
Happy holidays from all of us at Walkers Shortbread.

The History of Mince Pies (2024)

FAQs

What is the history of mince pies? ›

King Henry V had mince pies made as early as in 1413 for his coronation celebration on April 9. During this period it would have been made with various meats, game birds, boiled eggs and spices, which were very rare and extravagant ingredients of the time as this was a pie for celebration.

Did mince pies used to be coffin shaped? ›

TAKE ONE COFFIN…

Our mince pies undoubtedly have medieval origins, although we would not immediately recognise them. Pie crusts were known as coffins, and used as a vessel to cook delicate foods or house pre-boiled meat fillings. Pastry was little more than flour mixed with water to form a mouldable dough.

What is the tradition of eating the 12 mince pies? ›

Symbolism and Tradition

Mince pies have long been associated with Christmas and are an integral part of holiday celebrations in many countries. In England, it is believed that eating mince pies on each of the twelve days of Christmas brings good luck for the coming year.

In which country did the tradition of eating mince pies at Christmas originate? ›

England

When did they stop putting meat in mincemeat pie? ›

By the 18th century it was more likely to be tongue or even tripe, and in the 19th century it was minced beef. It was not until the late Victorian period and early 20th Century that mince pies dropped the meat and had all fruit fillings (albeit with suet). Even today there are traditions associated with mince pies.

Why are mince pies only eaten at Christmas? ›

According to reports, medieval people believed that if you ate a mince pie every day between Christmas and Twelfth Night, you'd be brimming with luck and happiness for the next 12 months. While there may not be any truth in the old myth, the tradition of eating mince pies every Christmas has certainly stuck.

What is the difference between mince pie and mincemeat pie? ›

All About Mincemeat: The Fabulous Filling for Mince Pies

If you are wondering what the difference is between a mince pie and a mincemeat pie, wonder no more—they are the same thing.

Why do they call it mincemeat? ›

Mincemeat is a combination of chopped dried fruits, spices, sugar, nuts, distilled spirits, a fat of some type and sometimes meat. The name is a carryover from 15th century England when mincemeat did indeed have meat in the mix; in fact, the whole point of mincemeat was to preserve meat with sugar and alcohol.

Do they have mince pies in America? ›

Mincemeat pie is a dish that isn't very common in the American kitchen, which can lead to some confusion for cooks, even those on the Allrecipes staff.

Who eats the most mince pies? ›

People in the South West eat the most mince pies in the UK, according to research by bakery chain Konditor. Having surveyed 2,000 people, the London-based company found that, on average, each person in the South West eats 24 mince pies across the festive period.

How many mince pies should you eat on each of the 12 days of Christmas? ›

Go with the tradition and eat a dozen

There is a tradition of eating one mince pie each day over the 12 days of Christmas from Christmas Eve to 5 January.

What is mincemeat pie filling made of? ›

Historically, mincemeat pie did contain meat, such as mutton, beef, or even game meats, alongside fruits and spices. However, modern versions focus on a delectable, sweet blend of dried fruits, spices, and sometimes rum or brandy.

Why is it illegal to eat mince pies on Christmas Day in England? ›

It has been claimed that eating the snack is illegal in England if done so on Christmas Day. The tradition comes from the time of Oliver Cromwell in the 1650s, when mince pies were banned at Christmas, along with other tasty treats. Cromwell wanted to tackle gluttony in England.

Do Americans eat mince pies for Christmas? ›

In the US, there are no laws regulating what foods fictional characters can consume, transport or distribute. Mince pies are not commonly consumed in the US outside of the New England region. Perhaps if more Americans were familiar with them they would be banned. Or perhaps not, who can know.

Why do we leave mince pies for Santa? ›

Traditionally, snacks are left out for Father Christmas and his reindeer on Christmas Eve to help keep their strength up as they deliver all the presents to children around the world in one night.

What was the original filling for mince pie? ›

The reason mincemeat is called meat is because that's exactly what it used to be: most often mutton, but also beef, rabbit, pork or game. Mince pies were first served in the early middle ages, and the pies were quite sizeable, filled with a mixture of finely minced meat, chopped up fruit and a preserving liquid.

What is the pagan origin of mince pies? ›

In any case, meat and fruit were invariably included among the ingredients. Going back even further, however, there are some who believe mincemeat pie is based on an ancient pagan tradition of serving coffin-shaped cakes representing Osiris—the Egyptian god who, according to legend, died and was resurrected each year.

Are mince pies a thing in America? ›

Mincemeat pie is a dish that isn't very common in the American kitchen, which can lead to some confusion for cooks, even those on the Allrecipes staff.

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