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Dec 7, 2012 12:18 PM

The Great British Mince Pie

Am I correct in saying (and writing for print) that they generally are small, single-serving pies rather than the 8-10 inch pies we Americans generally make, the apple pie size, so to speak? That's what I found the year I visited before Christmas, both at church tea shops and in the supermarkets. (Harters, my good man, where art thou?)

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  1. That's all I am seeing - I'm on my second UK holiday season and itty-bitty mince pies are EVERYWHERE. Haven't run across anything bigger yet. Also haven't learned to appreciate them yet.

    1. I heard you call, lemons.

      Yes, they are single serving pies - say around the diameter of an American muffin, maybe a little smaller.

      I'll be making my festive ones tomorrow and they'll go in the freezer. We eat them as one might eat a slice of cake, rather than as a dessert. If I've been really good at rolling out the pastry, I sometimes have leftovers - then I might also make a larger one as a dessert but that's not at all traditional.

      10 Replies
      1. re: Harters

        Ah, excellent. Making your own mincemeat? And how apt are the mincemeat (? plural?) to be with a meat product. You just don't find meat in it here, but I've seen mention "vegetarian mincemeat" in Olive & Good Food.... Not a critical question, of course.

        But that's what I was the vestry of St. John the Baptist in Cardiff when it finally dawned on me those 9-inch pies my mother and grandmother put out weren't the best way to do it. That ratio of pastry to mincemeat is important, it seems to me. Merci beaucoup, pal!

        1. re: lemons

          Actually, the dehydrated mincemeat in a box by Nonesuch does contain meat; not a lot, but it does have it. The real key is suet, though. Suet gives the special mouthfeel. (Oh, because tallow - rendered suet - is waxy when cool (tallow candles, anyone?), mincemeat should be served warm to get the proper mouthfeel. If you're eating mincemeat cool and it's not waxy, it's missing the key thing.)

          Over at home cooking:

          1. re: lemons

            I made my own mincemeat on one occasion some years back. Nowadays, I buy the best I can find in the supermarket and enhance it with a good slug of sweetish sherry.

            The history is thast it used to contain to contain minced (ground) meat but that passed from fashion I think in the 19th century. However, there is still animal product in the form of suet in mincemeat. The ref. to vegetarian mincemeat probably suggests it includes the "vegetarian suet" that's on sale. I see it on the supermarket shelves but have no idea what it's made of - some veggie fat I presume.

            By the by, my pastry includes caster sugar and orange zest and is brought together with orange juice. It's important not to overfill the pies as the sugar is likely to leak out - a heaped teaspoon is usually enough.

            1. re: Harters

              Our pastry recipes sound very similar. And that quantity of filling talks about the crust/filling ratio. It's not about the filling, it's about the combination. You need some chew to go with the softer stuff. (And how chowhoundish is THAT sentence?)

              1. re: Harters

                Harters, the inclusion of meat was very much alive in my childhood, which although quite some time ago was entirely in the 20th Century! My grandmother bought the Nonesuch in jars, not the dehydrated kind, which back then did have suet as an ingredient. She would add chopped lean beef, and then a big slug of brandy, and simmer it on the stove for a while before setting it aside. My mother also remembered a woman she knew when we lived briefly in Maine, who had made her mincemeat from scratch using venison.

                I loved any mince pie I could get my mitts on, and still do, but I can tell whether or not it's got meat in it, and prefer that it should.

            2. re: Harters

              Harters, you said, "We eat them as one might eat a slice of cake, rather than as a dessert"....

              Cake is usually considered a dessert here in the good old US.......

              1. re: sandylc

                I'd forgotten that - apologies. Let me rephrase and suggest it's eaten as you might a cookie or cupcake.

                1. re: Harters

                  No apologies needed! I was just curious about the difference....So cake is a snack food there?

                  1. re: sandylc

                    Absolutely. Most cake would never appear as a dessert. Sometimes, there is a cake like dessert - for instance, the 1960s classic of Black Forest Gateau (


                    I suppose there's one exception. Here in the north of England, we traditionally eat a rich fruit cake with cheese at the end of a meal.

                    1. re: sandylc

                      so glad you asked that, I was more than a bit confused too.

              2. Harters--Care to share your pastry recipe? Also, any suggestions on what brands might be, "the best you can find in the supermarket"? I know very little about mincemeat and I'm in the US, so I'm a bit afraid of what I'd end up with if I tried to pick one blind.

                6 Replies
                1. re: mdzehnder

                  Pastry comes from a Josceline Dimbleby Christmas book and I've been making the pies for years. This makes enough for 24 pies:

                  500g plain flour
                  175g caster sugar
                  375g butter
                  Grated rind & juice of 1 orange.

                  I make this in the processor, whizzing together the flour, butter & sugar. I stir through the grated rind, then add the juice to bring the dough together (if it needs a little more liquid, I just use a spalsh of juice from a carton.

                  Can't help on the mincemeat as I don't know what brands might be available to you. You want one with a high fruit content and, preferably, some mention of booze in the ingredients. I'd suggest that probably the easiest way to get the "best", is just buy the most expensive.

                  1. re: Harters

                    Harters, I found this post while looking for a mince pie crust recipe for my Boxing Day party (moved to tomorrow since too many Americans had to work on Wednesday). I made it. It was perfect. I used a standard US muffin tin, non-stick. I made the crust somewhat thick - closer to 1/4-inch than 1/8-inch and put less than a tablespoon of mincemeat. I baked at 400F (US gas oven) for 12 minutes, let cool in tin, and then they removed easily.

                    Thank you (again)!

                    1. re: Harters

                      Intrigued by the cookbook you mentioned, Harters, I did a little search and came up with this... Click to picture 2. Beautiful little pies indeed.


                      I'd love to get a copy of the Dimbleby Christmas book... it's hard to find, though.

                      1. re: Gio

                        rekha6 - glad it worked for you

                        Gio - the book was published in 1987 by Sainsbury Ltd (one of our major supermarket chains in the UK). I presume AbeBooks, or similar, would be the best place to try and track it down. Some decent wintry recipes in there as well as the more specific Christmas ones.

                        1. re: Harters

                          Since my reply to you I have been having a jolly time reading all about "Jossy". What a fascinating life and heritage she has. And still quite lovely and lively I see. Her 1982 cookbook, Marvelous Meals with Mince, was revised, updated and published this past September. The Christmas book is at Alibris...

                          1. re: Gio

                            I have the original "mince" book, also published by Sainsbury, and cook from it fairly regularly.

                  2. Mince pies that we bought in London (at Selfridge's) were tiny tarts, sold by weight.

                    1. It was one of our family traditions growing up in the north of England to devote a day to making mincemeat some months before Christmas. The huge ancient cast iron grinder was hauled out, put together and clamped to the table. We kids took it in turns to grind the ingredients (including lard). The mincemeat then went in large ceramic pots and was put in the garage to ferment.

                      My mum always made large mince pies -- I remember being surprised when I first saw the little ones, but others are correct I think that they are more traditional.

                      My mum's recipe was quite tart in retrospect, and I find commercial blends uber-sweet as a result.

                      We ate mince pies, apple pie, and fruit cake with cheese. Yum.

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: Chatsworth

                        Cheese (specifically sharp Vermont cheddar-style cheese) is still a traditional accompaniment to tart fruit pies (especially apple) in New England. Especially if eaten as a breakfast (classic for a cold autumn or snowy winter morning).

                        1. re: Chatsworth

                          Apple pie or, particularly, fruit cake, with cheese is very much a north of England tradition.

                            1. re: Karl S

                              In the north east, yes.

                              Where I am, in the north west, I'd prefer a Cheshire to a Lancashire. I remember my father would smear a bit of Cheshire with strawberry jam - but I've reckoned he was a bit extreme in this.

                              1. re: Harters

                                "I could just fancy some cheese, Gromit. What do you say? Cheddar?"

                                Not as traditional, but I have to say I'm with Wallace.

                                (Edited to say sorry, that should have been a reply to Karl S et al. but I don't know how to change it.)

                            2. re: Harters

                              I still have dreams of the treacle sponge with custard I had last summer just down the road from you. It was all I could do not to just pick up the jug and down the custard straight.

                              1. re: sunshine842

                                Mrs H always makes more custard than we need, so she can exactly that, sunshine.