How did the mince pie come to play a role in modern Christmas celebrations?

Year after year, the sweet and spicy mince pie can be found on tables during the holiday season. But what is the history behind them, and why do these fruity mouthfuls continue to make an appearance?

First appearing in 1390 in A Forme of Cury, an English cookbook as a pie full of meat and spice, the baked dish had a refresh in 1615 with mutton and fruit in Gervase Markham’s The English Huswife.

But it wasn’t until the mid-17th century until they made their debut at Christmas. In 1661, lover of pies Samuel Pepys was said to have got the fruity tart delivered when his wife was too ill to make them that year.

Yet not everyone in history liked pies. Oliver Cromwell is said to have banned the spiced tart during his reign as an effort to tackle gluttony. Though there is no official record in history to prove this.

According to the Chicago Reader, during the Prohibition-era Chicago saw its alcohol levels of canned mince pie filling reach more than 14%.

But when did the pies take that big step to become a sweet treat? By the time Hannah Glasse released Art of Cookery in 1747 the mince pie has already made its transition. Her recipe suggests a blend of currants, raisins, apples, sugar, and suet, layered in pastry crust with lemon, orange peel and red wine before being baked.

Due to the rise of sugar plantations in the West Indies, the cost of sugar began to decrease whilst availability increased. In 1861, Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management included both pie variations. A sweet crusted treat became as common as the meat with, with the Victorians continuing the tradition of the sweet and spicey mince pie we know today.

Bringing it back to present-day we spoke to family-run bakery Gillespie in Epsom, who continue to serve up this treat every year.

Located in West Street, couple Rose and Sam have been trading for 25 years as Gillespie. Sam has been a baker for over 40 years, whilst Rose is a chef who has always worked in the catering industry.

Since the start of the pandemic things have been tough for Gillespie. As offices started to close and people began to work from home much of their lunch trade vanished overnight. But the bakery quickly adapted and started to deliver to people’s homes. They focused on delivering to the self-isolating and elderly which they have continued to do so to this day.

We asked what would be on the cards for Gillespie this Christmas:

“During December we will be baking our delicious mince pies, Shortbread Christmas Trees, and our Christmas Bakewell.”

“We will be delivering, during the build-up to Christmas, bread, cake and all our festive goodies.”

They will also be offering an afternoon tea box for 2-6 people.

“All our Menus can still be ordered everything is individually packed into sealed bags all menus can be found on our website gillespiesbakery.com.”

Have you visited Gillespie before? Let us know what your favourite Christmas treats are below!