Victorian mince pies were very different from the ones we love today

Virgin Radio

17 Dec 2021, 10:49


Pic: Getty

Hint: they're not suitable for vegetarians.

You can't go wrong with a mince pie and a mulled wine, can you? It turns out though that our beloved festive treat used to be very different.

In the Victorian era, it wasn't the sweet pastry and fruit combination that you know and love now.

They can be traced all the way back to the Tudor period, so it seems we can't get enough of the festive delight, with a love that isn't waning.

It turns out that the mince in the name was once actually meat.

Mincemeat nowadays is mixed fruit and spices, but back in the day it actually contained minced beef as well as fruit, spices and alcohol.


The alcohol helped to preserve the meat (no fridges, remember) and using booze became a handy alternative to salting, curing, smoking, or drying it.

Meat eventually stopped being used when sugar became cheaper and easier to get.

The rise of sugarcane plantations in the West Indies made it more accessible.

As well as being called mince pies, they also went by other names: ‘Christmas pies’, ‘shrid pies’ and ‘crib cakes’ due to the resemblance of baby Jesus in his crib.


If you fancy making a meaty version, here are the ingredients and recipe for a traditional Victorian mince pie.

It comes from Mrs Rundle’s cookbook Modern Domestic Cookery, published in 1851:


  • 450g/1lb sirloin steak, finely chopped

  • 450g/1lb suet, grated

  • 4 large apples, peeled, core removed, flesh chopped

  • 1.35kg/3lb currants

  • ½ small loaf day-old bread, grated

  • Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste

  • Ground cinnamon, to taste

  • Ground cloves, to taste

  • Ground ginger, to taste

  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • 450g/1lb sugar

  • 2 lemons, zest and juice

  • 3 large oranges, juice only

  • Candied peel, diced (optional)

  • 250ml/9fl oz brandy

  • 250ml/9fl oz ruby port

Short crust pastry:

  • 225g/8oz flour, plus extra for dusting

  • 115g/4oz butter or margarine, cut into cubes

  • Water, as necessary

  • 4-6 tsp milk

  • 1 tsp sugar


  • Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.

  • Make the mincemeat: Mix all of the mincemeat ingredients together in a large bowl, using your hands, until well combined.

  • Transfer the mixture to a saucepan and heat over a very low heat for 3-5 hours, stirring occasionally until it has reduced to a thick, dark paste.

  • Make the shortcrust pastry: Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl. Add the butter or margarine cubes, then rub them into the flour using your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.

  • Gradually add the water, a tablespoon at a time, stirring well until the mixture comes together as a stiff dough.

  • Fill the mince pies: Turn out the pastry onto a lightly floured work surface and knead well until smooth and elastic.

  • Roll out the pastry onto a lightly floured work surface to 1cm thickness. Using an upturned bowl, cut eight discs from the pastry. Reserve the remaining pastry.

  • Place a coffee mug into the centre of each pastry disc and draw the sides of the pastry up against the mug, overlapping the edges, to form free-standing pastry cases.

  • Divide the mincemeat evenly among the pastry cases.

  • Add lids to the mince pies: Roll out the remaining pastry onto a lightly floured work surface. Using the same mug as before, cut eight discs from the pastry to create four lids.

  • Place one pastry ‘lid’ on top of each pie, tucking the edges into the pastry case. Pinch the pastry together well to prevent the filling from leaking out during baking. Using a sharp knife, cut a cross into the top of each pastry lid to allow the steam to escape.

  • In a bowl, mix together the milk and sugar until the sugar has dissolved. Brush the top of each pie with this mixture.

  • Place into the oven: Place the mince pies onto a baking tray. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, or until the pastry is crisp and golden-brown.

  • Remove the pies from the oven and allow cool on a wire rack before tucking in.







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