Growing up, mince pies were simple but delicious items – a pastry case, mincemeat made from dried fruits, suet, sugar and rum or brandy left to mature for as long as you like and a pastry lid. That was it. Obviously different cooks made slightly different pastry, but I only remember shortcrust pastry. My mum made a very short shortcrust which cooked pale for some reason, but produced the best mince pies there have ever been. I make mince pies, not as good as mum’s!
There are all sorts of varieties now – not just using different pastries such as rough puff, flaky or puff, but with different fruit in the mince meat. People have always had family traditions with different ingredients – apple – or not, carrot – or not, black treacle – or not… ad so on. However there are new exciting mincemeat combinations including all sorts of different fruits and peel – not just dried such as apricots, prunes, figs or dates, but pineapple, mango, papaya! Nuts of various sorts are added, unusual spices – cardamom, cumin, caraway and different toppings such as meringue, Viennese shortcake, icing, buttercream, cake, crumble, marzipan. Now there are different flavourings too – last year it was pine, this year it seems to be gin!
Mince pies used to be served with cream (when I was very young there was only tinned cream available, as well as evaporated and condensed milk) custard, very occasionally vanilla ice-cream, but more usually rum or brandy butter – which I think is also called hard sauce. Now there are a whole variety of options.
I confess I do love mince pies in all their variety (except the pine flavoured ones) but my favourite would still be made with shortcrust (preferably my mum’s) and a nice very fruity, quite sharp and no too sweet mince meat… and rum butter.
My featured image is of a raised pie, recipe by Eliza Acton, etching by Henry Adlard.