Not mincing words…mincing meat (pie)

Holiday pie. MMM..and no, I am not talking pumpkin pie..it’s all about mince meat pie. A traditional holiday meal that goes back further than Christmas itself. Sometimes eaten after a meal, sometimes eaten AS a meal, mince meat pie is one fascinating example of how a food reflects our experiences.

I have heard so many people say they don’t like mince meat pie, yet, when pressed, they don’t know what is in mincemeat pie, except that it contains meat. Well. That’s SORT of true.

Traditional recipes included everything from Ox tongue to venison to chicken. Meanwhile, the modern recipe for mincemeat pies according to Joy of Cooking includes beef and beef suet along with goodies like sugar, cider, apples and candied orange peel. There, now…that doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

However, if a meat pie is just too much for you, you’ll be glad to know that other modern recipes skip the meat all together or use vegetable shortening instead of beef suet, making the mince meat pie more of a sweet fruit pie. You can even buy pre-made mince meat pie filling. BUT, if you think meat pie is strange, the history is convoluted and even bizaare.

Here’s the REALLY creepy thing, originally, the pies were made in the shape of coffins. Strangely, there are a couple of different stories about how the pies started out in this shape (you mean there are TWO reasons to eat a coffin-shaped pie?!)  One allegory has the pies actually representing a cradle, representing the birth of Jesus. However, another story has the coffin shapes originating in Egypt representing the god Osiris, who was born, died and resurrected annually and celebrated during the winter solstice (December 21). See a connection here?

Mince meat pie was largely popularized the way we know it,  in the 11th century when the Crusaders returned from the Holy Land with spices in hand. They introduced the use of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg into the mince meat pie. It is said that the three spices represent the three gifts given to the baby Jesus. But the coffin-cradle shape of mince meat pie wasn’t the last time the pie took on non-traditional shapes. In the mid-1600’s celebrating Christmas with gluttonous imbibing of food and drink was outlawed in England at the behest of Charles Cromwell (geesh, talk about the first Scrooge).  Since mince meat pies were associated with over indulgent Christmas celebrations, and specifically outlawed,  it’s been suggested that the strange shapes of mincemeat pie which appeared during that time were meant to hide the traditionally tasty meal.

Mince meat pie’s many incantations and variations reflect it’s ongoing part of humanity’s winter celebrations and traditions.

Finally, if you are a fan of mince meat pie, apparently, you are in good company. Guess who else is said to like it? Santa Claus himself and children in England still leave a piece out for Santa to this day.

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About Tara DeWitt Coomans

An aspiring cook and an accomplished eater, Tara is inspired by the world around her and the food on her plate. "When you can't jump on a plane and take a vacation to an exotic destination, chances are you can whip up a dish or go to a restaurant that will take you there." says Tara. She often eats out at a restaurant after trying to accomplish a given dish at home. None the less, she enjoys food and what it says about the human experience. Tara is a full-time freelance writer and blogger. She specializes in writing about food, cooking and travel. You can find her in the kitchen, on the plane or at her computer.