Are you feeling frumenty?
21st December 2018
With Christmas just around the corner Rosemary Shrager explains the history behind some of our favourite festive traditions...
We all know why Christmas Day started but what about the history behind Boxing Day? The origins have nothing to do with hunting, horse racing, or swimming in icy temperatures, which people get up to nowadays.
In fact the name originates from giving out Christmas boxes full of food. One school of thought thinks the tradition started in the Middle Ages while others suggest it dates back to Christians in the late Roman Empire.
But it was the Victorians who named it Boxing Day, and declared it an official Bank Holiday in 1871 with the emphasis still very much on giving boxes of food to the poor. And when John Mason penned the hymn Good King Wenceslas in 1853 it was based on the true story of Wenceslas, the Duke of Bohemia in the 10th century, who risked his life on a bad winter’s night in the freezing snow to take parcels to the poor, as he felt it was his Christian duty to do so. This act of generosity took place on December 26th, otherwise known as the Feast of St Stephen.
Christmas pudding actually started off as a type of porridge in the 14th century called ‘frumenty’ and was made using shredded beef and mutton. That is quite similar to the earliest version of mince pies, which were made with shredded lamb and spices that the Crusaders brought back from the Middle East.
The spices were important as they represented the gifts from the Three Wise Men. Mince pies also commonly contain 13 ingredients representing Christ and the 12 Apostles. Originally they were oblong shaped, which is thought to have represented Jesus’s crib. It was presumed lucky if you ate one mince pie on each of the 12 days of Christmas, ending with the Epiphany on January 6th, as you would then have good luck for the next 12 months.
With that in mind, here is a great mince pie recipe. I have double the mincemeat mixture; use half if it’s for this amount of pastry, then you have some left for another batch.
This recipe will make approximately 18 small mince pies
For the mincemeat:
190g golden caster sugar
80g melted butter
80 to 100 ml rum
2 tbsp Balsamic vinegar
50g mixed dried fruit
50g candied peel
1 apple very finely diced
100g chopped walnuts
50g slivered almonds
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
¼ teaspoon of cloves
50ml orange juice
¼ teaspoon fine salt
For the pastry:
130g unsalted butter
250g plain flour
25g caster sugar
1 whole large egg
1-2 tbsp water
1 whole egg and one yolk (for the egg wash)
1) Butter your mince pie tins and put to one side. Mix the rum with the mixed dried fruit and leave for 30 minutes to soak.
2) Place the brown sugar into a saucepan with the remaining liquids and warm until all the sugar has dissolved.
3) Now add the soaked dried fruit spices and walnuts and mix well. You can store this in a jar or use immediately for your mince pies. Use half of the mixture for this amount of pastry.
4) For the pastry, put the butter into a food processor with the flour, turn on to make breadcrumbs, now add the egg, sugar and water.
5) Process until it comes into a ball, remove and make into a cylinder, cover with clingfilm and put into the fridge for one hour.
6) Grease your mince pie moulds with butter.
7) Take your pastry cylinder from the fridge, put on to a lightly floured surface. Press down on it a little with the palm of your hand.
8) Roll out into a large rectangle to approximately 2mm thick and cut with rings 18 8cm disc, and 18 6cm disc.
9) Individually line each of the moulds and once you have snugly lined them leave a little extra to allow for shrinkage.
10) Prick all over with a fork and put into the fridge for 30 minutes.
11) Now fill each mould just over halfway up with the fruit mixture, then place the 6cm disc on the top, repeat this until finished and seal the edges.
12) Put a hole in the top of each mince pie to let the steam out when cooking.
13) Put a baking tray in the oven to get it hot.
14) Have your oven pre-heated to 170 degrees C.
15) Whisk the eggs, brush the top with an egg wash and place into the oven on the hot tray for 20 minutes or until the pastry is cooked through and golden brown.
16) Remove from the oven and allow to cool, then sprinkle generously with icing sugar before serving.