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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 remember...it 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 (http://www.deliaonline.com/recipes/ga...


                    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.

                          1. On the other side of the pond, you could still get pies with suet and meat from the Amish and Mennonites back in the fifties and sixties. Had to ask for it though.

                            1. Here in Florida, USA, I live in a household where the relatives of my girlfriend had never tried mincemeat pie. This was astonishing to me because it was the quintessential Christmas pie when I was growing up. It, like fruitcake and eggnog, is, to me, the taste of Christmas. My father always requested mincemeat pie in addition to the pumpkin or apple pie which we usually had.

                              Interestingly, when I made mincemeat pie (which consisted of pouring Borden's Nonesuch or Cross and Blackwell's filling into a pie shell and adding a bit of brandy or whiskey), my girlfriend's relatives did not like it. This astounded me and I have learned that if I make a mincemeat pie, I had better be prepared to eat it all myself or freeze some of it.

                              To answer your question, Lemons, I've never seen the smaller pies which you describe and I think it must be a British custom. Interestingly, I have seen small pecan pies, as you have described, just not mincemeat pies.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: gfr1111

                                then making it British-size would be idea for you.

                                I made dozens and dozens of mince pies a few years ago for a school function -- and found that a mince pie mold was almost exactly the same size as a muffin tin, so we made our mince pies in muffin tins, then topped them with a star cut out of the leftover pastry.

                                1. re: sunshine842

                                  British MIL does her pies with the star pastry top as well. Her mincemeat is richer, darker and sweeter than my mum's, which is quite tart (and as mentioned above, what I'm used to and prefer). My mum uses suet rather than actual meat, and her recipe includes grated carrots, apples, raisins and lots of lemon juice. There is always a slightly scary looking container of the stuff quietly fermenting away in the downstairs fridge, getting ready to go into my mum's wonderfully short (made with shortening, natch) pastry at Yuletide. They are muffin tin sized and must be served warm with a dollop of hard sauce, in our circle usually after dinner. I think I may have a couple for breakfast -- not traditional, but yum.

                              2. There's a bit of a trend for teeny tiny mince pies as well, and I've seen full-size lattice-topped mince pie 'sheets' in some cookbooks and magazines, but they are definitely a twist rather than a standard way of presenting the mincemeat. The recipe introduction for the large mince pie said it was a good way of making mince pies at the last minute.

                                Nigella Lawson's Bramley apple mincemeat contains no suet whatsoever

                                1. I now have something of a "use-up" issue, having been obliged to buy a bigger jar of mincement than normal. There's about 500g left. Now, I know it will sit happily in the cupboard until next year but I'd rather like to have a clear out.

                                  Looking for ideas as to what to do.

                                  Yes, I know I could make a big pie and serve it as dessert. And, yes, I know the usual use-up is to warm it through to become a hot sauce for ice cream. And, yes, in the past I've made those filo moneybag thingies. They werent a great success - not even as good as my less than successful idea of making a mincemeat baklava.

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: Harters

                                    Stuff baked apples. I can almost see it as a stuffing for winter squash... needs some sweetness tempering though I think.

                                    Bread & Butter pudding...

                                    1. re: Harters

                                      I have a recipe for February Cake which is designed to use up leftover, well-matured mincemeat - I'm sure using it before February would be fine. It's basically a light fruitcake so whether you would like the recipe depends on your preferences - you might be fruitcaked out well into february. Nigel S has a recipe for mincemeat hotcakes: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/min.... I'm not sure if they're for me (haven't made them) but they might appeal to others. Like a very rich welshcake, I imagine.

                                      I also have masses to use up, having made my own this year

                                      1. re: limoen

                                        I think the hotcakes might just be the answer. Firstly, I am a very big fan of Welsh cakes and, second, I'm a very big fan of Nigel

                                        1. re: limoen

                                          I'm going to try those hotcakes as well. I like that he specifies the eggs must be "free range". :-)