"Three quarters of a pound of suet, and a pound of apples without the cores shred fine; add to these three quarters of a pound of sugar, a pound of currants clean washed and picked, a nutmeg grated, a quarter of an ounce of beat cinnamon, and a little salt, two ounces of almonds blanched and cut into pieces, a glass of brandy, a little orange peel. Cover it with a good crust. "N.B. This mixture makes exceeding good minced pyes, and will keep three months in an earthen mug, with a paper dipped in brandy laid over it. When you intend to keep it, put in your almonds and sweet-meats as you use it, and add a little more brandy. Line your pans, fill them, and cover them with good paste."
E. Taylor, The Lady’s, Housewife’s, and Cookmaid’s Assistant, 1769
‘Tis almost the season to be starting to eat minced pies1I have to force myself to not start eating minced pies until December 1st at the very earliest, because once I do start I find it very difficult to stop again. Only four days to go, only four days to go, only four days to go… and so I thought I’d share the following mainly fruit-based recipe, for either a large ‘Devonshire Pye’ or a mixture than can be used to make up a batch of smaller, tart-sized pies if you prefer.
But first, a quick aside. The volume of receipts that this recipe comes from was published in 1769 and it seems that the author (‘E’ perhaps being Elizabeth Taylor? Wife, sister or mother of either H. Taylor the printer who produced the book for R. Taylor the bookseller in Berwick Upon Tweed?) didn’t have a particularly high opinion of the kitchen staff of the day. Please allow me the indulgence of a second quotation, this time from the preface. It’s quite enlightening:
It is an old proverb, That God sends meat, but the Devil sends cooks, which many to their hungry experience have found to be too true, who have not been able to allay the uneasy sensation of their stomachs: not owing to the food being bad in its kind, but to the ignorance, dirtiness and sluttishness of the cook.
Sluttishness? I say!2I’m guessing the term had a different meaning in the eighteenth century to today. Or then again, maybe not..? E. Taylor then goes on to promise that their book of receipts will provide a wealth of cheap yet elegant dishes that anyone with the wit to read will be able to deliver to the dinner table without breaking their master and mistresses’ budget. One such being the above method for making ‘Devonshire Pye’, the filling of which doubles up as a seasonal mince meat blend.
Unless, that is, you like your mincemeat a little meatier. In which case, the following recipe in the book, ‘Minced Pyes made with Tongue’ might be more to your taste:
Two pounds of parboiled neat's tongue, two pounds of beef suet, a pound of the tartest apples you can get, the rind of one lemon grated, a pound of raisins stones, shred all together very fine; add to these a pound and a half of currants, an ounce of cinnamon, a quarter if an ounce of mace, a quarter of an ounce of nutmeg, a little salt ; mix all very well together, and put it close down in an earthen mug. When you use it, allow two glasses of port wine, one glass of brandy, and the juice of a lemon to a dozen pies, with three or four pieces of candied orange peel in each.
Neat’s tongue refers to a cow’s tongue, usually dried in salt and saltpetre to preserve it, as per the always superb Foods of England website. Beef suet is, of course, the visceral fat of several food animals, a widely-used cookery staple for centuries. The good slosh of brandy in the first recipe must have acted as a preservative, allowing the mixture to be kept in an earthen(ware) mug – presumably a container larger than our tea and/or coffee mugs today – with a brandy-dipped piece of paper (perhaps waxed paper?) on top.
It’s interesting that the second recipe doesn’t call for the alcohol to be mixed in until the mixture is ready to be added to the minced pies. Perhaps simply packing it ‘close down’ to remove all the air was enough to stop it spoiling for a little while, bearing in mind it would have been stored in a cool, if not cold, larder rather than a centrally-heated home. Modern cooks may prefer to refrigerate an air-tight plastic container rather than trust to their earthen mugs.
How about you? Do you prefer your mince pies tart-sized or super-sized? With or without copious amounts of neat’s tongue? Have you ever made, or tried, a meatier version of a mince pie? Are you inspired to give this eighteenth century version a go? Please do feel free to let me know, via the comments.
- 1I have to force myself to not start eating minced pies until December 1st at the very earliest, because once I do start I find it very difficult to stop again. Only four days to go, only four days to go, only four days to go…
- 2I’m guessing the term had a different meaning in the eighteenth century to today. Or then again, maybe not..?