… but this time it’s a sweet indulgence. Actually while Christmas mince pies have always been traditionally associated with Christmas (big clue in the name there Ted) as far back as medieval times, they haven’t always been the sweet pastry cases filled with a dried fruit “mince” mixture that we know today.
They mostly probably arrived here in the saddle bags of the Crusaders returning from the “holy wars” in the middle east, where combining meat, fruit, and spices in dishes was common. The rich of the Georgian period elevated the humble little pie to the lofty heights of Christmas status symbol, and would show off their wealth by having pies made in different shapes and fitting them together like a jigsaw puzzle in clear acts of “pie-one-upmanship”. Meat (beef tongue or mutton usually) remained the main ingredient in the pies until well into Victorian times when Mrs Beaton steered them into the fruit mince era, albeit that the fruit mince contained animal suet, which to this day remains a key ingredient in the traditional mixture.
There are some interesting traditions associated with these little fellas … like every member of the family should give the fruit mince a stir in a clockwise direction as anticlockwise would bring a year of bad luck. You should eat one mince pie a day over the 12 days of Christmas, again for 12 months of good luck, and you should consume your first pie in silence while making a wish. So I thought I’d better get some taste buds over for a taste test and called on the Soprano and the Reindeer Fancier to tackle the job. We sampled (clockwise from top left on the plate with Rudolph) offerings from Waitrose - Gluten free and all butter, Konditor & Cook – who lay claim to being the best mince pies in the UK, and M&S stars.
The gluten free were surprisingly better than ok (we probably started with unjustifiably low expectations) with a crispness to the pastry and reasonable filling. They fared better than their regular Waitrose siblings where the pastry was a little thick and the mince was sort of disjointed and you could actually taste the brandy separately – maybe that’s good but I didn’t like it. M&S stars had a very soft pastry and an almost jam like mince so no real wow factor there. The K&C pies had a lovely light crisp pastry with a flake and the right amount of filling where all the ingredients were nicely integrated. I don’t know if they are the best in the UK but they were certainly easily the best we tried today.
The UK alone consumes 370 million mince pies annually over the festive season – that means we have to eat about 5.28 pies each – make mine K&C please.