Saturday, 17 December 2011

Drop the Shaped Minc'd Pies

A panoply of eighteenth century minc'd pies based on designs in Edward Kidder,
Receipts in Pastry and Cookery (London: nd. c.1720).
Yesterday I made a very brief appearance on the BBC's popular early evening magazine programme The One Show. The aim was to talk a little bit about the history of minc'd pies with the presenter Chris Evans and the comedian Lee Evans. For the programme I made a number of minc'd pies from early recipes, including some attractive shaped ones based on wonderful eighteenth century designs. However, the director did n't really think viewers would find these interesting enough and wanted to run with the theme of unusual ingredients, which he felt had more comedic possibilities.

Most of us probably know that minc'd pies originally contained meat as well as sweet ingredients like dried fruit, candied peel and spices. However, what is not often discussed is the nature of that meat. In the early modern period tongue, lamb's stones (testicles), udder and tripe frequently turn up in the recipes, as well as the more usual veal and beef. Some even contained fish. One recipe, published by Gervase Markham a year before Shakespeare's death in The English Housewife (London: 1615) contained pickled herring. In 1660, Robert May gave recipes for minc'd pies made with salmon, eel and sturgeon!

Of course these flavours seem bizarre and even repulsive today, but back in the seventeenth century pie eaters were less squemish. In fact the sense of revulsion felt by many towards offal and the idea of eating an ingredient like fish in a sweet dish like a minc'd pie, seems to be a fairly modern and exclusively Western development. Our forefathers were less concerned about such matters.

So a good laugh was had by all on the programme at our ancestor's decadent and bizarre taste and my lovely shaped mince pies were dropped from the schedule in favour of the comedic possibilities of ones made with tripe and pickled herring! So just for readers of this blog, here above is a photograph of them.  By the way, I filled them with a lovely mince meat from a 1699 Cumbrian recipe from the receipt book of Elizabeth Brown of Townend Farm, Troutbeck. As you can see from her recipe, Elizabeth called them Shred Pies - they contained minced veal. They are really delicious.

The whole subject of minc'd pies is a fascinating one and will be dealt with in a later, much more detailed posting which I hope to publish before Christmas wanes and you all lose interest in such seasonal matters. Our Food History Jottings researcher Plumcake has undertaken a lot of work over the years on the mythology surrounding mince pies and we will incorporate some of her findings into the posting.

This blog is created by Historic Food. Go to the Historic Food Website.

1 comment:

  1. I love your website and find the minc'd pies' shapes quite interesting, as well as the unusual ingredients that go into making them.