When Grandma chose her Christmas mince pie recipes, they had to call for mincemeat pie fillings that met her standard — they had to be fruity and delicious.
And homemade mincemeat pies and tarts are an absolute necessity if you plan to celebrate a traditional Christmas with all the trimmings. You will love these Christmas pies.
The Book of Household Management (1861)
Good puff paste (1/2 pound of pastry is sufficient for 4 pies), mincemeat filling.
Make some good puff-paste by recipe; roll it out to the thickness of about 1/4 inch, and line some good-sized patty pans with it; fill them with mincemeat, cover with the paste, and cut it off all round close to the edge of the tin.
Put the pies into a brisk oven (425ºF), to draw the paste up, and bake for 25 minutes, or longer, should the pies be very large.
Brush them over with the white of an egg, beaten with the blade of a knife to a stiff froth; sprinkle over pounded sugar, and put them into the oven for a minute or two, to dry the egg; dish the pies on a white doily, and serve hot.
They may be merely sprinkled with pounded sugar instead of being glazed, when that mode is preferred.
To re-warm them, put the pies on the patty pans, and let them remain in the oven for 10 minutes or 1/4 hour, and they will be almost as good as if freshly made. Seasonable at Christmas time.
Ingredients: 3 large lemons, 3 large apples, 1 pound of stoned raisins, 1 pound of currants, 1 pound of suet, 2 pounds of moist sugar, 1 ounce of sliced candied citron, 1 ounce of sliced candied orange peel, and the same quantity of lemon peel, 1 teacupful of brandy, 2 tablespoonfuls of orange marmalade.
Grate the rinds of the lemons; squeeze out the juice, strain it, and boil the remainder of the lemons until tender enough to pulp or chop very finely.
Then add to this pulp the apples, which should be baked, and their skins and cores removed; put in the remaining ingredients one by one, and, as they are added, mix everything very thoroughly together.
Put the mincemeat into a jar with a closely fitting lid, and in a fortnight it will be ready for use. This should be made the first or second week in December if you plan to use it with a Christmas mince pie recipe before the Holidays.
Ingredients: 2 large lemons, 6 large apples, 1/2 pound of suet, 1 pound of currants, 1/2 pound of sugar, 2 ounces of candied lemon peel, 1 ounce of citron, mixed spice to taste.
Pare the lemons, squeeze them, and boil the peel until tender enough to mash. Add to the mashed lemon peel the apples, which should be pared, cored, and minced; the chopped suet, currants, sugar, sliced peel, and spice.
Strain the lemon juice to these ingredients, stir the mixture well, and put it in a jar with a closely fitting lid. Stir occasionally, and in a week or 10 days the mincemeat will be ready for use.
Sufficient for 18 large or 24 small pies. Make this about the beginning of December.
The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book (1916)
Christmas mince pie recipes should be always baked with two crusts. For Thanksgiving and Christmas, puff paste is often used for rims and upper crusts, but is never satisfactory when used for under crusts.
5 pounds raisins, seeded; 5 pounds suet, finely chopped; 5 pounds apples, 4 pounds citron, 1-1/2 pounds blanched almonds, 5 pounds currants, 5 pounds light brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon mace, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 2-1/2 cups brandy.
Cook raisins, suet, apples, citron, currants, and sugar slowly for one and one-half hours; then add almonds, spices, and brandy.
Mix together one cup chopped apple, one-half cup raisins seeded and chopped, one-half cup currants, one-fourth cup butter, one tablespoon molasses, one tablespoon boiled cider, one cup sugar, one teaspoon cinnamon, one-half teaspoon cloves, one-half nutmeg grated, one saltspoon of mace, and one teaspoon salt.
Add enough stock in which meat was cooked to moisten; heat gradually to boiling-point, and simmer one hour; then add one cup chopped meat and two tablespoons Barberry Jelly. Cook fifteen minutes.
A Christmas dinner without mincemeat wouldn't seem normal at our house. I'm talking about mincemeat that's made with fruit and spices, NOT the old-style minced beef variety.
I will never forget the surprise I got while visiting an elderly English neighbor. Mrs. Price proudly offered me a slice of her homemade mincemeat pie still warm from the oven, and my first bite revealed that she had made it the Old English way with coarsely minced beef.
Yes, it was good, but its chewy meaty texture was not my preference for a dessert pie.
The old fashioned Christmas mince pie recipes on this page all call for fruit and spices, except for the following version by Fannie Farmer for those wanting to try a traditional, old-style minced-meat version.
5 cups chopped cooked beef, 2-1/2 cups chopped suet, 7-1/2 cups chopped apples, 3 cups cider, 1/2 cup vinegar, 1 cup molasses, 5 cups sugar, 3/4 pound citron finely chopped, 2-1/2 cups whole raisins, 1-1/2 cups raisins finely chopped, salt, juice 2 lemons, juice 2 oranges, 1 tablespoon mace, 2 tablespoons each of cinnamon, clove, allspice; 2 nutmegs grated, 2 tablespoons lemon extract, 1 teaspoon almond extract, 1-1/2 cups brandy, 3 cups liquor in which beef was cooked.
Mix ingredients in the order given, except brandy, and let simmer one and one-half hours; then add brandy and shavings from the rind of the lemons and oranges.
The Christmas pie has its roots in medieval England when pies containing savory meats were popular. King Henry VIII's Christmas pie recipes called for minced meat, suet and spices.
These "minced-meat" pies were eaten during the meal's main course, not later as dessert. And this brings us to the tale of Little Jack Horner.
Little Jack Horner sat in the corner
Eating his Christmas pie;
He put in his thumb
And pulled out a plum
And said, "What a good boy am I."
Legend has it that this old nursery rhyme refers to an unusual Christmas pie recipe that was linked to an event that took place during Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539.
Abbot Richard Whiting of Glastonbury Cathedral in Somerset attempted to pacify King Henry by giving him the title deeds to twelve manorial estates as a generous Christmas gift.
Knowing the king's passion for Christmas pie, the wealthy abbot sent his steward, Thomas Horner, to deliver the deeds cleverly enclosed inside a pie crust.
Horner, realizing his employer's days were numbered, carefully opened the crust and took the prize deed from the pie before delivering it.
After the Reformation and after Richard Whiting had been hanged drawn and quartered, it's alleged that Horner quietly moved his family into Mells Manor in north Somerset where they went on to live quite contentedly.
However, the tale cannot be substantiated, and today the Horner family continues to insist that the story is quite untrue.
During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603), Christmas pie fillings evolved into a mixture of minced meat, suet, and dried fruits such as raisins, currants, prunes, and dates.
These minced-meat pies were often generously sweetened with sugar and spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, which were symbolic of the gold, frankincense and myrrh given to the Christ Child by the Magi.
Pies were baked in rectangular pastry cases called coffins to represent the Christ Child's manger. Some bakers even fashioned a tiny baby from the pastry to ornament the upper crust.
The quantity of minced meat called for in old fashioned minced-meat pie recipes decreased over the years to the point where most of today's Christmas mince pie recipes are fruit based and contain no ground-up meat at all.