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The Christmas Pie


The Christmas Pie

Christmas is a time for many things; Santa Claus, presents, crackers, Christmas trees and decorations, turkey, ham and parsnips and then, your favourite Christmas pies. There are many variations of this centuries old recipe, that once originated in the Holy Land.

It is believed that European crusaders  from the 13th century brought back with them, on return from the crusades, Middle Eastern recipes that contained ingredients like spices, fruits and meats. One of these recipes were the Mince pie or as I call them Christmas Pies.

The British, of course, made it into what it has become today. All over the world people celebrate the birth of Christ – with mince pies during December. Christmas pies used to be filled with real mince meat but nowadays we fill them with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, fruits, suet and spices.

Even though  the recipe has holy undertones it was once thought of as “idolatry” against the church. English gentlemen like John Timbs advocated that Roman Fathers in the Vatican were gifted with sweetmeats “in token of the offerings of the Eastern Magi”, but the Puritans who were Protestants, felt that the church had to be purified from Catholic teachings and was opposed to the eating of Christmas pies.

During the English Civil War the Christmas pie became a banned substance and the message put out was: “Nay the poor rosemary and bays, and Christmas pie, is made an abomination”. The Age of Reason was a time when deism was the topic of the day. It was the 18th century and writers debated the conflict between the Protestant Church and the Catholic Church.

Issues involving the Bible, miracles and who the true Deity and God was, provoked the British monarchy into banning certain literature. One such writer, Philo-Clericus, who believed that Christmas pies should not be fed to the clergy, wrote: “The Christmas-pie is, in its own nature, a kind of consecrated cake, and a badge of distinction; and yet it is often forbidden, the Druid of the family. Strange that a sirloin of beef, whether boiled or roasted, when entire is exposed to the utmost depredations and invasions; but if minced into small pieces, and tossed up with plumbs and sugar, it changes its property, and forsooth is meat  for his master.”

English writer, poet, editor, essayist, lexicographer and Anglican, Dr Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), once mentioned in one of his essays that the Quakers’ called the Christmas pie names like “the Scarlet Whore of Babylon, a Hodge-Podge of Superstition, Popery, the Devil and all his Works”.

The mince pies used to be made in the shape of a log to represent the crib the baby Jesus was laid in on the night of his birth, but other writers have explained the shape as a representation of a coffin. The oldest recipe had 13 ingredients in it, representing Jesus and his 12 Disciples.

But whatever has been said about this little cake with the very confusing title (for some it remains a mystery why the mince is not meat but fruit; it certainly baffled me as a child) it still remains a favourite cake and dessert for during the Christmas season.


1 cup flour (plain or high grade)

¼ cup (60 gram) butter

1 tablespoon caster sugar

1 teaspoon cornflour

1 egg


2 tablespoons sliced almonds

Approximately ¾ cup Fruit Mince

Icing sugar



Mix flour, butter, sugar and cornflour with the tips of your fingers until crumbly.

Add egg and mix in well. If necessary, slowly add a little bit of water until the mixture comes together.

Turn onto a lightly floured surface and gently knead until smooth.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Roll pastry between 2 sheets of baking paper until it is 3 mm thick.

Cut into circles using a 65 mm round cutter. Place circles in greased shallow baking tins.

Spoon 1 to 2 teaspoons of mince filling onto each base.

Sprinkle sliced almonds over mince.

Take the left-over pastry trimmings and roll into a new ball and roll to 3 mm thickness.

Cut star shapes (50 mm diameter) to decorate the pies.

Bake in a pre-heated moderate oven at 180ºC for 10 to 15 minutes.

Dust with icing sugar, using a fine sieve.


Mince Meat

1 cup raisins, chopped

1 cup sultanas

1/2 cup red glacé cherries, chopped

1/4 cup diced dried apricots

1 cup dried cranberries

1/3 cup mixed peel

1/2 cup currants

1/2 cup pitted dried dates, chopped

1 cup sweet orange marmalade

1/2 cup white rum

1/4 cup crème de cacao liqueur

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar

2 teaspoons mixed spice

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