A mince pie, also known as minced pie, is a small British sweet pie traditionally served during the Christmas season. Its ingredients are traceable to the 13th century, when returning European crusaders brought with them Middle Eastern recipes containing meats, fruits and spices.
The early mince pie was known by several names, including mutton pie, shrid pie and Christmas pie. Typically its ingredients were a mixture of minced meat, suet, a range of fruits, and spices such as cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Served around Christmas, the savoury Christmas pie (as it became known) was associated with Catholic idolatry and during the English Civil War was banned by the Puritan authorities. Nevertheless, the tradition of eating mince pies at Christmas continued through to the Victorian era, although by then its recipe had become sweeter, and its size had reduced markedly from the large oblong shape once observed. Today the mince pie remains a popular seasonal treat enjoyed by families across the United Kingdom.
The ingredients for the modern mince pie can be traced to the return of European crusaders from the Holy Land. Middle Eastern methods of cooking, which sometimes combined meats, fruits and spices, were popular at the time. Pies were created from such mixtures of sweet and savoury foods; in Tudor England, shrid pies (as they were known then) were formed from shredded meat, suet and dried fruit. The addition of spices such as cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg was, according to the English antiquary John Timbs, "in token of the offerings of the Eastern Magi." Several authors, including Timbs, viewed the pie as being derived from an old Roman custom practised during Saturnalia, where Roman fathers in the Vatican were presented with sweetmeats. Early pies were much larger than those consumed today, and oblong shaped; the jurist John Selden presumed that "the coffin of our Christmas-Pies, in shape long, is in Imitation of the Cratch [Jesus's crib]", although writer T. F. Thistleton-Dyer thought Selden's explanation unlikely, as "in old English cookery books the crust of a pie is generally called 'the coffin.'"
Mince pies were known by several names; by 1596 they were called mutton pies, and sometimes Christmas pies. Gervase Markham's recipe for mince pie, published in 1615, recommends taking "a leg of mutton", and cutting "the best of the flesh from the bone", before adding mutton suet, pepper, salt, cloves, mace, currants, raisins, prunes, dates and orange peel. He also suggested that beef or veal might be used in place of mutton. In the north of England, goose was used in the pie's filling, but more generally neat's tongue was also used; a North American filling recipe published in 1854 includes chopped neat's tongue, beef suet, blood raisins, currants, mace, cloves, nutmeg, brown sugar, apples, lemons, brandy and orange peel. According to John Brand, in Elizabethan and Jacobean-era England they were also known as minched pies. During the English Civil War, along with the censure of other Catholic customs, they were banned: "Nay, the poor rosemary and bays, and Christmas pie, is made an abomination." Puritans were opposed to the mince pie, on account of its connection with Catholicism. In his History of the Rebellion, Marchamont Needham wrote "All Plums the Prophets Sons defy, And Spice-broths are too hot; Treason's in a December-Pye, And Death within the Pot." Some considered Christmas pies unfit to occupy the plate of a clergyman, causing Isaac Bickerstaff to comment:
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