When Grandma thought of Christmas pie recipes, she was thinking of mincemeat pie filling. Mincemeat pies and tarts are an absolute necessity if you plan to celebrate a traditional Christmas with all the trimmings. Enjoy trying these vintage Christmas pies from Grandma's day. Christmas just isn't Christmas without a fine mincemeat pie or tarts to munch on!
The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book (1916)
Fannie Farmer was maybe the most famous American cookbook author of her day, and these classic mincemeat pie recipes did her credit.
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 lb raisins, seeded; 5 lb suet, finely chopped; 5 lb apples, 4 lb citron, 1-1/2 lb blanched almonds, 5 lb currants, 5 lb 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.
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 lb 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 Book of Household Management (1861)
Ingredients: Good puff paste (1/2 lb of paste sufficient for 4 pies), mincemeat.
Mode: 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, 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 lb of stoned raisins, 1 lb of currants, 1 lb of suet, 2 lb of moist sugar, 1 oz of sliced candied citron, 1 oz of sliced candied orange peel, and the same quantity of lemon peel, 1 teacupful of brandy, 2 tablespoonfuls of orange marmalade.
Mode: 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 stone 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.
Ingredients: 2 large lemons, 6 large apples, 1/2 lb of suet, 1 lb of currants, 1/2 lb of sugar, 2 oz of candied lemon peel, 1 oz of citron, mixed spice to taste.
Mode: 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.
At our house, a Christmas dinner without mincemeat just wouldn't seem
natural. I'm talking about mincemeat made with fruit and raisins, not
the old-style minced beef variety.
I'll 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. It was good, but its taste and texture were not my preference.
The mincemeat pie recipes that I've given below all call for fruit and raisins, except for one traditional, minced beef version by Fannie Farmer. You'll love the sweet pies and tarts made from using these homemade mincemeat recipes.
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. And this brings us to Little Jack Horner...
Little Jack Horner sat in the corner
Legend has it that this old nursery rhyme refers to an unusual Christmas pie recipe that was linked to an event which 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.
The tale cannot be substantiated, however, and 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.
The 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.
This example of an early mincemeat pie recipe is taken from "The Queen-like Clofet" by Hannah Wolley, published by Richard Lowndes, London, in 1672:
"To make good minced Pies take one pound and half of Veal parboiled, and as much Suet, shred them very fine, then put in 2 pound of Raisins, 2 pound of Currans, 1 pound of Prunes, 6 Dates, some beaten Spice, a few Caraway seeds, a little Salt, Verjuice †, Rosewater and Sugar, to fill your Pies, and let them stand one hour in the Oven: When they go to Table strew on fine Sugar."
The quantity of minced meat called for in Christmas pie recipes decreased over the years to the point where most of today's mincemeats are fruit based and contain no ground-up meat at all.
† Verjuice is a vinegar-like, sour juice that's often made from crab apples or unripe grapes. It's used in cooking and can still be purchased in some food stores, though its popularity has declined in recent years.