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Mince Pie & Christmas Pudding: The English Christmas

Mince Pie & Christmas Pudding: The English Christmas

Christmas is coming, we start to see decorations everywhere and I thought it was time to speak a little about Christmas in England. Today I will write about the typical Christmas cakes that we ate in England: mince pie and Christmas pudding.

A mince pie, also known as minced pie, is a small British sweet pie traditionally served during the Christmas season. Its ingredients are traceable to the 13th century, when returning European crusaders brought with them Middle Eastern recipes containing meats, fruits and spices.

The early mince pie was known by several names, including mutton pie, shrid pie and Christmas pie. Typically its ingredients were a mixture of minced meat, suet, a range of fruits, and spices such as cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Served around Christmas, the savoury Christmas pie (as it became known) was associated with supposed Catholic “idolatry” and during the English Civil War was frowned on by the Puritan authorities. Nevertheless, the tradition of eating Christmas pie in December continued through to the Victorian era, although by then its recipe had become sweeter and its size reduced markedly from the large oblong shape once observed. Today the mince pie remains a popular seasonal treat enjoyed by many across the United Kingdom.

Although the modern recipe is no longer the same list of 13 ingredients once used (representative of Christ and his 12 Apostles according to author Margaret Baker), and lacks the religious meaning contained therein, the mince pie remains a popular Christmas treat. Bakers Greggs reported sales of 7.5 million mince pies during Christmas 2011. The popular claim that the consumption of mince pies on Christmas Day is illegal, is considered to be an urban myth.

Christmas pudding is a type of pudding traditionally served on Christmas Day (December 25). It has its origins in medieval England, and is sometimes known as plum pudding or plum duff, though this can also refer to other kinds of boiled pudding involving dried fruit. Despite the name “plum pudding,” the pudding contains no actual plums due to the pre-Victorian use of the word “plums” as a term for “raisins.”

Traditionally puddings were made on or immediately after the Sunday “next before Advent”, i.e. four to five weeks before Christmas.

The day became known as “Stir-up Sunday”. Traditionally everyone in the household, or at least every child, gave the mixture a stir and made a wish while doing so.

A traditional bag-boiled Christmas Pudding still showing the “skin”.

It was common practice to include small silver coins in the pudding mixture, which could be kept by the person whose serving included them. The usual choice was a silver threepence or a sixpence. The coin was believed to bring wealth in the coming year.

Other tokens are also known to have been included, such as a tiny wishbone (to bring good luck), a silver thimble (for thrift), or an anchor (to symbolise safe harbour).

Once turned out of its basin, decorated with holly, doused in brandy, and flamed (or “fired”), the pudding is traditionally brought to the table ceremoniously, and greeted with a round of applause.