The first mention of Mincemeat that I could find goes back to the time of the Crusades (1096-1291). While scholars debate the impact the Crusades had on the arts, culture and cuisine of Western Europe, it’s difficult to deny the introduction of various herbs, fruits and spices from the Middle East. Sugar and spices made it possible to preserve meat without smoking or salting. People started adding dried fruits such as raisins or dates to the minced meat and fat, but it was still very much a savory dish.
In the 1400’s there is evidence that they started making pies, or as they spelled it “pyes”, using a form of pastry crust to surround the filling and then baking it. In the year 1413, King Henry V served mincemeat “pye” at his coronation. It was at this time in England that it became synonymous with Christmas along with roasted goose, and Plum Pudding, and was rumored to be a favorite of King Henry VIII. Christmas was a time of celebration that lasted for the 12 days, starting on the 25th of December and ending on January 6th, the Epiphany or Three Kings’ Day. If you were well off, you would have pie, pudding and goose all 12 days.
Then in 1640, along came the Puritans. Civil war broke out, and the Puritan Parliament took over from King Charles I. The Puritan’s began restricting the celebration of Christmas. There is a myth that Oliver Cromwell made it against the law to celebrate Christmas, however, this is not exactly true as he was away from England at the time. Historians do say he would probably would have agreed with the law. While Christmas was not “outlawed”, celebrating was greatly curtailed. Thus, no more pie, no more roasted goose, no plum pudding. This lasted until the Restoration of 1660.
In the 1800’s Mincemeat recipes still contained suet, but less meat and had moved firmly into the dessert camp. Though it’s not a popular holiday treat in America, to our friends across the Atlantic it is still a traditional British Christmas custom, right along with steamed puddings, and roasted goose. While we no longer have to depend on smoke, salt, sugar or spices to preserve our meat, this 900 year old recipe has managed to survived.
The recipe I’ve given is another from my Father’s book, but I have omitted the meat, and have also used a vegetable suet. However, if you can find good quality beef suet, you can certainly use that.