A 17th-century recipe for mince pies that’s recently been found in The National Archives calls for a loin of fat mutton to be minced with a leg of veal. Adding to the strangeness, the recipe is also an official government document – as it was catalogued as a State Paper, part of the accumulated papers of Edward Conway, Secretary of State from 1623 to 1628 during the reign of Charles I.
While modern day mince pies are a sweet, Christmas time treat, the cooks of the past mixed sweet and savoury ingredients. As well as meat, raisins, currants and dates plus cloves, nutmeg, sugar and lemon and orange rind were added all topped off with a seasoning of pepper.
While our modern day pies are generally about the size of a cupcake according to the recipe, 17th-century pies were all manner of different sizes – and pinned up in paper.
According to Dr Jessica Nelson, Head of Collections (Med/E/Mod/Map/Leg) at The National Archives: “The State Papers have some really weird and wonderful stuff in them, from suggestions for how to cure toothache to copies of poems by Ben Jonson and John Donne. It is a curious mix of private and professional interests.” The piece that includes the mince pie recipe, SP 14/189, also includes, for example, a copy of the statutes for Exeter cathedral, the estimate of the cost of building a war ship, a table of weights and measures of pearls, a discourse in Italian on the Inquisition, and a list of Spanish words and phrases with translations.
For anyone interested in finding out how 17th-century mince pies tasted, the original recipe text reads as follows:
1. For six Minst Pyes of an
2. Indifferent biggnesse.
3. Take halfe a peck of the fynest Flower, 2 li[bra]s of Suger,
4. 2 li[bra]s of Butter, a Loyne of fatt Mutton, w[i]th a litle of
5. a Legg of Veale to mynce w[i]th it, 2 li[bra]s of Reasons of
6. the Sunn, as many Currons, of Cloves, Mace,
7. and Nuttmeggs one ownce.
8. For the Paist mingle 1 pound and a halfe of Suger
9. w[i]th the Flower and breake in the Yolkes of six
10. Eggs, then worke it together w[i]th 3 parts of the two
11. pounde of Butt[e]r. Sett on a litle water, and lett
12. it Seethe, then scym it and put in the 4th parte of
13. the Butt[e]r, and when it is melted, Scym it cleane
14. from the Water, and worke it w[i]th the Paist.
15. For the Meate. Let it be seasoned w[i]th Pepper,
16. and mingled w[i]th halfe a pound of Suger, the other
17. Frute and Spyce, the Raisons must be stoned, &
18. some of them mynced amongst the meate, the
19. others put in hole, put in the Joyce of two Orringes
20. and one Leamond, and the Ryne of them smale
22. When the Pyes are filled slyce Dates and stick
23. in the top, and when you sett them into the
24. oven Wash them over w[i]th the yolkes of Eggs.
25. and pynn them upp in Papers.
The scanned image of the recipe is Crown Copyright, courtesy of The National Archives – SP 14/189 f7 (1603-1625).