Regency Christmas Traditions: Mince Pie and Twelfth Night Pie

Regency Christmas Traditons

Traditional foods are always an important part of any celebration. Every family and every culture has certain dishes that speak of holidays and festivities would be incomplete without them. This was as true in the Regency era as it is today. Mince pie was a dish that helped define the season.

Claesz, Pieter - Tabletop Still Life with Mince Pie and Basket of Grapes - 1625 During the Regency, most also considered mince meat pies, also known as Christmas or Twelfth Night pies staples for a Christmas feast and the whole of Christmastide.  These pies can be traced back to the 13th century when crusaders returned with Middle Eastern recipes featuring meat, fruit and spices together.  Mixing meat with fruit and spices helped preserve the meat without smoke, drying or salt.  

Originally the mince pies were oblong or oval; the pastry crust tended to sink in the middle resembling Jesus’ manger. Sometimes a small doll was made from pastry and placed in the center. These were known as crib pies.  

For a time, mince pies were stigmatized by the Puritans for their connection with gluttony, merry-making and Catholicism.  In the 1600’s, the pies became circular, though they might be as large as 20 lbs. In the intervening centuries they have become smaller.   William henry hunt christmas pie

Leftovers from the Christmas feast would be used to make pies for the twelve days until Epiphany.  Pies could be made up shortly after the feast and could last up to two months, if the weather were cold.

Recipes varied by region, but usually included beef, poultry and other meats, suet, sugar, raisins or currants, spices, orange and lemon  peel, eggs, apples and brandy. When making the minced-meat filling, custom says it should be stirred it only clockwise because stirring it counterclockwise would bring bad luck for the coming year. Tradition says that the filling should include cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg to represent the gifts of the Magi to the infant Jesus. Similarly, a star shaped bit of pastry should top the pie for the star of Bethlehem.   

Eating mince pie every day of the twelve days of Christmas was said to bring twelve months of happiness in the new year. To strengthen the charm, the pies must be baked by the dozen and offered by friends.

Other traditions suggest while eating the first mince pie of the season, the eater should make a wish make a wish and that mince pies should be eaten in silence.

Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery (1747) offered this recipe for Minced Pie.

To make Mince-Pies the best way

 TAKE three pounds of suet shred very fine, and chopped as small as possible; two pounds of raisins stoned, and chopped as fine as possible; two pounds of currants nicely picked, washed, rubbed, and dried at the fire; half a hundred of fine pippins, pared, cored, and chopped small; half a pound of fine sugar pounded fine; a quarter of an ounce of mace, a quarter of an ounce of cloves, two large nutmegs, all beat fine; put all together into a great pan, and mix it well together with half a pint of brandy, and half a pint of sack; put it down close in a stone pot, and it will keep good four months.

When you make your pies, take a little dish, something bigger than a soup plate, lay a very thin crust all over it, lay a thin layer of meat, and then a thin layer of citron cut very thin, then a layer of mince-meat, and a layer of orange-peel cut thin, over that a little meat, squeeze half the juice of a fine Seville orange er lemon, lay on your crust, and bake it nicely.

These pies eat finely cold. If you make them in little patties, mix your meat and sweet-meats accordingly. If you choose meat in your pies, parboil a neat’s tongue, peel it, and chop the meat as fine as possible, and mix with the rest; or two pounds of the inside of a sirloin of beef boiled. But you must double the quantity of fruit when you use meat.~Hannah Glasse

Mince PieBy the 1800’s, mince pie had acquired its modern taste. Cooks used a lot of beef suet to bolster the flavor of their pies and many recipes dropped the meat entirely. A modern mince pie recipe:  


1/4 cup melted butter

1/3 cup brown sugar

2/3 cup raisins

1/3 cup sultanas (white raisins)

1/3 cup black currants

1/3 cup candied peel

1 granny smith apple, peeled, cored and grated

1/3 cup chopped glace cherries

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon mixed spice

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

3-4 T brandy


4 ½-5 cups cake flour, loosely measured

½ cup corn starch

½ cup powdered sugar

14 T butter

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla extract


Fruit Mincemeat :Combine all ingredients and set aside for flavors to mingle.

Pastry : Sift flour, cornstarch, and powdered sugar. Rub in the butter. Beat egg and vanilla together then add, mixing well. Knead into a ball. Do not over work.

Roll out thin on a floured board and cut into 3″ rounds. Place rounds in a patty pan or a baking sheet. Place a heaped teaspoon of filling in the middle of each pastry round and cover with second pastry round. Press edges together with the prongs of a fork and prick each top twice.

Bake at 350F for 18-20 minutes or until golden. Cool slightly before removing to cooling rack. Dust lightly with powdered sugar.

Read more about syllabub and other holiday foods here.


A Regency Christmas By Kieran Hazzard ©2013 2nd Bn. 95th Rifles

Christmas Feast

Glasse, Hannah. The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy. (1784) London: Hale,

Mrs. Sarah J. Morton, M. Michael And Louis A. Godey. Lady’s Book, Philadelphia: Louis A. Godey, Publishers’ Hall, Dec. 1860.

Hirst, Christopher. Sweet delight: A brief history of the mince pie

History of Mince Pie

The History of Mince Pie 

Jane Austen and Christmas: The Christmas Eve Dinner at Randalls 

Jones, Callie .The mince pie in history, myth and law

Rundell, Eliza. A New System of Domestic Cookery. (1814)  

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