Mincemeat was originally just that – minced meat, usually mutton or beef, with fruit, peel and spices brought back by Crusaders during the Middle Ages. Some historians claim the three main spices (cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves) represent the Magi, others suggest thirteen ingredients, one each for Christ and his apostles. ‘Christmas pyes’ took various shapes, usually in a pastry ‘coffin’ (box) and some had a little pastry ‘baby’ representing Jesus in the manger, living on in today’s crust.
Although the meat element only survives in suet today, other treats are added, often including a generous slug of booze, dating back to Victorian times. An 1888 recipe in Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management recommends half a pint of brandy. Cheers!