As the New Year slowly unfolds, we look back to the festive season and the recipe for a mince pie that rather fortuitously was published in the Christmas edition of the BBC’s History Magazine. Taken from Robert May’s 1660 cookery book ‘The Accomplisht Cook’, the recipe below, adapted by Eleanor Barnett a food historian at Cardiff University, is for a traditional mince pie. By the Tudor period mince pies had become popular festive treats but, as the name suggests, the filling was actually meat. Veal, mutton, pork, turkey, capon (a castrated cockerel) or beef were all used to make pies intended to feed a large number of people as part of the main course. As with the recipe reproduced here, the meat filling also contained the familiar festive flavours conferred by dried fruits and spices, such as mace, nutmeg and cloves. Be warned, however, unlike the bite-size fruity mince pies we enjoy today, this 17th-century meaty version is big.
By the late Victorian period meat-filled mince pies were being replaced by a mixture of preserved fruits and spices. Indeed, the typical Victorian mincemeat filling is epitomised by Mrs Beeton’s recipe, one which we have recreated previously for a Christmas-themed event at Osborne House, a former summer royal residence beloved of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in East Cowes on the Isle of Wight.
This 17th-century mince pie is certainly substantial. The flavours are both familiar yet surprising as we are so used to the fruity version that the beef mince filling seems somewhat strange. That said, for historians and those interested in older culinary or festive traditions, this meaty mince pie is a delicious alternative. Bon appétit!
Barnett, E., (2023), ‘A Christmas Feast’, BBC History Magazine Christmas 2023 edition, London: Immediate Media, p. 76.