What is Mincemeat Pie and Figgy Pudding?

Yay, the holiday season is upon us and once again, my children have questions that are hard to answer!

Or hard to understand, maybe.

This year, they have asked about mincemeat pie and figgy pudding, so I thought I would share what I know/found out with you.

When I was an itty bitty one, my great grandmother made mincemeat pies from venision. I hated them. Why? In my mind, they weren’t pies. Pies were supposed to be sweet and candy-like. You know, like apple pie, or pumpkin pie. And, they had raisins. I have never cared much for raisins. But I would love to try one of her mincemeat pies today, with my ‘gown up’ tastebuds. My memory of them was a semi-sweet, yucky, cinnamon-raisin flavor.

If you look at the Wikipedia page about Mincemeat Pies and scroll down the 19th century recipe, you’ll see ingredients like currants and orange and lemon peel. If my grandmother used those, it’s no wonder my younger self didn’t care for it much.

Today many, if not most, mincemeat pies have no meat in them at all. I can’t explain why, other than perhaps “game meat” is harder to come by? Nonetheless, it seems this food was/is also known as, or closely related to, Mince Pie, which is a more fruit-based version generally served around Christmas time and also known as Mutton Pie or Christmas Pie.

I suspect that over time, and through lean-times when meat was not readily available, these pies have become interchangeable and now the ‘meat’ part of the name is still used on pies that don’t actually have meat.

Either way, I would caution that if you have a chance to try one, be prepared for a flavor more along the lines of fruitcake than a meat pot-pie or a cobbler.

Figgy Pudding is a term that confuses most of us Americans. Generally, to us, pudding is a gelatin-like substance, similar to Jell-O, but richer and runnier. Figgy Pudding is actually a bread pudding, or cake-like dessert, and is, like the Christmas Pies mentioned above, a popular holiday treat in England. Wikipedia says it can be baked, steamed, boiled, or fried. I suspect these have quite disparate outcomes. It also states that “figgy pudding” may be a generic term for this kind of desserts, not necessarily meaning made with figs, but perhaps plums or raisins.

I beleive, but could be mistaken, that I had one of these when visiting friends in England. If it was what I think it was, it was a very strong-flavored, chewy bread, very similar to some kinds of fruitcakes, softened with a brandy reduction sauce. I didn’t care for it much.

But If I ever have a chance, I will try it again!