What do you put in mince pies? Are mince pies vegetarian? Why do we eat mince pies around Christmas?

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It wouldn’t be Christmas without nibbling on a batch of warm mince pies straight out of the oven. Whether you like your mince pies with brandy butter or sprinkled with icing sugar, you can’t go wrong with the basic festive flavours that bring mincemeat to life.

Here's your "ye old faithful" guide to the nation's favorite Christmas treat.

What is in a mince pie?

The modern mince pie is typically shortcrust pastry with mincemeat containing dried fruits and spices. Some pies contain alcohol such as brandy or rum.

Many food historians disagree about the true origin of a mince pie and its original ingredients. Some believe that the recipe was brought back by Crusaders who were inspired by the cooking techniques and flavours of the Middle East. Cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg soon became a new addition.

It is also believed that the pie was developed from an old Roman tradition where fathers in the Vatican were presented with sweetmeats.

Other historians believe that our modern mince pie is inspired by Tudor ‘shrid pies’ which contained shredded meat, suet and dried fruit.

Do mince pies actually have meat in them?

Early recipes for mince pies include meat, for example in the 17th century a woman named Elinor Fettiplace created a recipe that used mutton and beef suet alongside flavoursome spices like nutmeg.

English Heritage are unsure when mutton pies switched to mince pies.

Even now our beloved pastry occasionally contains suet which is essentially a raw, hard fatty substance from animals. If you include suet in your recipe it will help you make a softer pastry however there are now replacements so that anyone can enjoy this joyful treat.

The modern mince pie is generally a vegetarian product although it is always handy to check the packaging for the green veggie logo or ask for a list of ingredients.

Why are mince pies associated with Christmas?

Unlike the round shapes of our modern pastries, early pies were an oblong shape which some believe represent Jesus’ crib in the stable. According to author Margaret Baker, she believes original recipes containing 13 ingredients represent Jesus Christ and his 12 apostles.

No matter where this christmas favourite came from, there’s no better way to spice up our winter evenings than a mince pie.