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Mince Pies from the Archives

by Dewi G on 2022-12-15T12:28:00+00:00 | 0 Comments

Did you know that the Library has a collection of historic books, as well as the main book collection? The historic books come from the institutions that came together to form LSBU, and included Battersea College of Education, which taught Domestic Science and later teacher training. The books for Domestic Science include several old recipe books and books of household hints, so we decided to have a look through them to see if we could find some seasonal recipes. The one that came up most consistently was mincemeat or mince pies, although we did look for gingerbread or Christmas pudding as well! 

Mince pies today are made with pastry and mincemeat, which is mostly made up of dried fruit cooked together to make the filling. But mincemeat and mince pies did originally contain actual meat – several of the recipes we found involved using leftover meat with the dried fruit, and up until fairly recently the fat used to make mincemeat was beef suet. These days you can buy vegetarian suet, so don’t worry that you’ve accidentally eaten beef if you don’t eat meat! 

Image of how "to make mince pies the best way"

The earliest recipe we were able to find is from The Art of Cookery, published in 1775, which tells us “the best way” to make them. It makes a lot of pies, as it starts with “three pounds of fuet fhred very fine”, “two pounds of raifins ftoned”, “half a hundred of fine pippins” - that’s 1360g suet, 910g raisins and TWENTY FIVE KILOS of apples (we think, a hundredweight is 112 pounds or around fifty kilos, so half a hundred would presumably be 25 kilos). There are also currants, sugar and spices, cooked together with brandy and sack, which is an old word for sherry. The pies were then made up with a thin layer of meat, a layer of citron and a layer of orange-peel, as well as the juice of a Seville orange and some red wine. 

A century later, there is the wonderfully titled “Things a Lady Would Like to Know”, which is mainly recipes and tips for running a household from 1876, and which includes a recipe for mincemeat. This one is a much smaller quantity! It involves apples, currants, raisins and beef suet from cold roast beef, as well as candied peel, spices, brandy and sherry.  

“The Kitchen Oracle” is from 1886, also recommends using meat – although unlike the other recipes it starts with the meat, rather than the dried fruit. The recipe includes both two pounds of sirloin of “ready dressed roast beef” and two pounds of suet, then the more familiar currants, raisins, apples, sugar and candied peel. It also calls for a pint and a half of brandy, with more added when the pies are actually made up. 

By 1941, actual meat was no longer part of the recipe! Battersea College of Education published a small book of recipes that students would need for their studies, and beyond. The recipe still included beef suet, but the main part of the recipe was the more familiar dried fruit. Brandy was also reduced from earlier recipes, the College only calls for “1 gill”, which is ¼ pint, possibly brandy was slightly less available in war-time, or they felt that mince pies should be slightly less alcoholic! 

We also compared a more recent recipe book - “How to be a Domestic Goddess” by Nigella Lawson (1998) includes a suet free mincemeat recipe, for those who want a completely vegetarian mince pie - and do remember that most shops which make mince pies use vegetarian suet! The book is available in the main library, rather than in Special Collections, so you can borrow it if you fancy trying to make your own mince pies. 

All these recipes, plus some others, are currently on display on Level 3 of the Hub Library, by the helpdesk, on the Southwark Campus. Special Collections books can be consulted by appointment, please get in touch if you’d like to know more! 

Below is a picture of some home-made mince pies - not from the historic recipes! If you're making some this December, why not think about sharing them with the Library - either in photo form or in real life!

a tray of 12 home-made mince pies

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