Mince pies. Those lovely little devils. If only they had been called mince pies when I was a child. There seems to be a bit more mystery to a mince pie than a minceMEAT pie. Meat was not something I desired in a pie when I was 10 and sitting at my grandmother’s Thanksgiving Day table waiting patiently for dessert. No matter if such a pie had been lovingly prepared, nestled up in a tea towel, and kept cosy on top of a warm tumble dryer alongside his sweet, fragrant friends, pumpkin and apple.

“No mincemeat pie for me,” I would say year after year, which was always followed by the obligatory “one day you’ll know what you’re missing.” (which, by the by, has now been inducted (inherited?) into my ridiculous lexicon of parental vernacular, alongside “were you born in a barn?” (close!) and “hold your horses!” (goes without saying)

Ironically, and most happily surprising, I really didn’t know what I was missing when I declined Grandma Johnson’s mincemeat pie. Turns out this mincing of meat is really pretty terrific. When it doesn’t have meat in it, that is. (Although, having learned that mincemeat pie actually originated in the Middle East, I wouldn’t turn my nose up at a savoury/sweet Ottolenghi-fied twist on the classic…but I digress…)

In my humble mincemeat research, I found a North American filling recipe that was published in 1854 which included chopped neat’s (beef) tongue, beef suet, blood raisins (yikes!), currants, mace, cloves, nutmeg, brown sugar, apples, lemons, brandy and orange peel. It was said that this mincemeat could be preserved for up to ten years. Then, on one special Monday at the turn of the 20th century, meatless mincemeat was introduced and the world was a better place. Now that I have sampled a host of variations, I am proud to point out that I am particularly partial to a cranberry-walnut blended mincemeat filling.


I mention all of this because mince pies are the cornerstone of Irish holiday baking. They are what hot cross buns are to Easter. Quotidian. They are always the first smattering of Christmas spirit to hit the bakeries and markets across this fair country and the last to leave. When you see the mince pies, you know that elaborate Christmas cakes are not far behind. Their debut tips you off to the perfect storm of puddings that lies ahead. From that day forward, you are granted the perfect excuse to whip up a boozy brandy butter, and sip copious amounts of mulled wine with friends and family… or, not with friends and family.

This weekend, we had our 2nd annual DIY holiday wreath-making party. The first thing I did was bake up a batch of Ballymaloe mince pies along with a few fun variations. Afterward, Geoffrey and I headed down to the wood to collect holly and ivy, evergreens and laurel leaves. We snipped branches from the olive tree and rosemary in our garden. Then, we made our traditional rosemary-mint cake, this time with chocolate instead of a snowy white sponge. My sister-in-law and her three children came over on Sunday afternoon and we gathered round the table to craft three wreaths. One for each of our homes, and another to place on Peggy’s grave with a prayer. We sipped mulled wine and nibbled on warm pies slathered up in zesty orange brandy butter and planned the big Christmas Day meal. Then, when everyone went home and Geoffrey was off to the farm to feed the calves, I cleaned up our workstations, sat down, and savoured every last morsel of the lone mince pie left on the platter.

Grandma would be proud.


Miniature Mince Pies

225g (8oz) plain flour
175g (6oz) butter, chilled and cut into cubes
1 dessertspoon icing sugar, sieved
a pinch of salt
a little beaten egg or egg yolk and water to bind
1lb mincemeat (see recipe below)
egg wash
Sieve the flour into a bowl. Toss the butter into the flour and rub it in with your fingertips. Add the icing sugar and a pinch of salt. Mix with a fork as you gradually add in the beaten egg (do this bit by bit because you may not need all of the egg), then use your hand to bring the pastry together into a ball. It should not be wet or sticky. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 180c/350f/gas mark 4
Roll out the pastry until it’s quite thin – about 3mm (1/8 inch) Stamp into rounds 7.5 (3 inch) in diameter and line shallow bun tins with the discs. Put a good teaspoonful of mincemeat into each tin, dampen the edges with water and put another round on top. Brush with egg wash and decorate with pastry leaves or stars.
Bake the pies in the preheated oven for 20 minutes approx. Allow them to cool slightly, then dredge with icing or caster sugar. Serve with Irish whiskey cream (or brandy butter.)

Homemade Mincemeat
Makes 3.2kg (7lb) approx 8-9 pots
2 cooking apples
2 organic lemons
900g (2lbs) Barbados sugar (soft, dark brown sugar)
450g (1lb) beef suet
450 (1lb) sultanas
224 (8oz) currants
110g (4oz) candied citrus peel
70ml (2.5fl oz) Irish whiskey
2 tbsp Seville orange marmalade
pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 180c/350f/gas mark 4
Core and bake whole apples in the preheated oven for 30 minutes approx. Allow to cool. When they are soft, remove the skin and pips and mash the flesh into a pulp.
Grate the rind from the lemons on the finest part of the stainless steel grater, squeeze out the juice and stir into the pulp
Grate the rind from the lemons on the finest part of a stainless steel grater, squeeze out the juice and stir into the pulp. Add the other ingredients one by one, and as they are added, mix everything thoroughly. Put into sterilized jars, cover and leave to mature for two weeks before using. This mincemeat will keep for two to three years in a cool, airy place.

The winner of Rochelle Bilow’s signed book, The Call of the Farm is YVONNE CORNELL. Many, many thanks to everyone for their heartfelt turkey comments, you have helped me in ways you’ll never know!

Slan Abhaile,


Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2014

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44 Responses to “Mince Pies & Winter Wreaths”

  1. I don’t really care for mince pie (the big 9-inch pie); a slice of that is just too much sweet stuff for me. But mince pies (darling little tartlettes) have a much higher crust to sweet filling ratio and so are just right for me. Yours look beautiful!

  2. Findia Group says:

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. Fidelma says:

    Making mincemeat, and then the subsequent pies, has been on my Christmas list for years! Maybe this year I’ll actually be inspired ( late in the day as it is!)

  4. Sharon Casey says:

    I absolutely love your blog! My husband and I have visited Ireland twice and hope to return frequently. In the meantime, I read your blog and feel as if I am almost there! I can’t wait to make the mince pies for our Chrismas Eve Party with our family! I also hope to win the copy of the book. It will make me feel like I am in Ireland even more so! Thanks for all of your stories and beautiful pictures!

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  6. Meg says:

    Imen, I look so forward to your posts – your blog oozes beauty!
    I can’t remember now when I first heard of Darina but her book, Forgotten Skills of Cooking, is a well-loved treasure in our home.
    Thank you for all you do!
    XO from Victoria, British Columbia

  7. Emily Grace says:

    Lovely photos. I may now actually be in the holiday spirit.:)

  8. Lorraine says:

    This was a beautiful posting. Those little pies are adorable! I just spent two days in the kitchen, so I am going to need some inspiration to go at it again. Thanks for the inspiration.

  9. Evangeline says:

    Oh, this sounds like a lovely book! I’ve never tried mince pies (always found them too intimidating), but for years I’ve been making my version of a Christmas cake, the basic recipe (by Jeanne & Paul Rankin) for which I found on one of those ‘free recipe cards’ at Oxfam in the UK I don’t know how many years ago… best recipe I’ve ever found, and I guess it all goes to show that you never know where you’ll come across a winner!
    Merry Christmas to you!

  10. Jill says:

    I can’t wait to try that recipe! Love the pictures and the idea of a wreath-making party. The cookbook sounds great too. Have a wonderful Christmas!

  11. Sharon says:

    I have been following your site for a while and many times I’ve thought to reply. Finally, I cannot pass the chance – I have been making my own mincemeat for a few years and there is nothing like your own. I use butter, it was a conscious decision – melted butter and sugar, hmmm. You are a wonderful breath of fresh air and I love the way you celebrate Irish food. Wishing you continued success in the future and happy holidays. Slan

  12. farmerpam says:

    I,too, have always steered clear of the mincemeat. Maybe this is the year I’ll bake and taste one. Lovely cookbook, I will have to research it more after the holidays. Happy baking. 😉

  13. Peter says:

    Love the photos of the mince pies. Going to give your recipe a go this weekend. Thanks and Merry Christmas.

  14. Valerie says:

    What a lovely post, Imen. Though I disagree about the meat part 🙂 I am dying to try real MEAT mince – fascinating concept though isn’t it? – just couldn’t get my hands on enough real suet this year… Have a beautiful Christmas!

  15. Oonagh says:

    I made my own mincemeat for the first time this year, a few weeks ago. Mince pies are on the to do list this weekend!

  16. Amanda says:

    Gathering a consensus: I stockpiled mincemeat three years ago and it has hung out in the refrigerator the whole time. But I didn’t process it. Vinegar, sugar (less than this recipe), and brandy. What do we think? Still good? Smells incredible, but I am working up the nerve…

    • Oonagh says:

      Amanda, that sounds like a pickle, not mincemeat. Mincemeat doesn’t contain vinegar. The sugar, both added & in the dried fruits, and the alcohol preserve it. Maybe try it alongside cold turkey on St Stephen’s Day? Let us know how it tasted. Oonagh

  17. Aine says:

    Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house
    Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
    The kitchen was steamy, the aircon was off,
    Christmas in Hong Kong with n’ary a quaff.
    Late home from the airport, bags dumped by the door,
    No sugar plums, mincepies , or eggnog to pour.
    Homesick and hungry, what else to do
    but dig out my old cookbook from Ballymaloo.
    When what to my wondering eyes should appear
    when I find nine pages missing but a great big fat tear!
    So its fried rice for Christmas in my little sublet
    Unless I win first prize from my favorite Farmette!

  18. jill palumbo says:

    I’ve always been one of the few in my family who love mince pies, but I never knew what went in them. I believe my mother used the filling from a jar. I’d love to make my own, but what is beef suet and where do you purchase it? That book looks lovely.

  19. Susan Carson says:

    On day 2 of our trip in September, we went to Ballymaloe and spent several hours wandering the gardens and I purchased Darina Allen’s “30 Years at Ballymaloe”. I carried it around Ireland for the next three weeks never peeking behind its cover until I boarded the flight back to the States and only then did I open the book and settled in for 8 hours of uninterrupted bliss! I loved everything about Ireland and Ballymaloe so I will have to try the mince pie recipe as well. I truly enjoy your posts and each time one shows up in my mailbox, I brew a cup of tea and enjoy a mini vacation to the Emerald Isle. Thank you!

  20. We were home in Mayo for Thanksgiving (that traditional Irish holiday!) and I was delighted to indulge in mini mince pies from the local bakery … just can’t get them in Philly! I was also delighted to stumble across your column in Irish Country Magazine. Nice to know I’m wasn’t the only one stymied by “surgery” and “chemist” the first time around. Happy Christmas to you and yours!

  21. Lise Hedstrom says:

    Thank you for the exquisite images and for your writing, Imen. Ireland and the Irish people are a refreshing break from this Norwegian-centric town! My youngest sister is a great fan of mince pies, so I will see that she has a copy of this recipe.

  22. Lynn says:

    Mincemeat is one of my Father’s favorites, so we have been making pies and cookies with it for Christmas for years 🙂 I would love to try your variation with cranberries and walnuts. How do you alter the recipe above to add these? Or do you have a different recipe altogether? Thanks!

  23. Betty Ann says:

    I’m feed’in suet to the birds but I think I better try these tiny pies.

  24. molly nichol says:

    i happened on your webpost just after i had assembled all the ingredients to make my own mincement today! glorious serendipity!

  25. Gill says:

    Living in Ireland, I go home to Wales to spend Christmas with my family. I usually wait until I’m home to start my Christmas baking so I’ll definitely give this recipe a go. Your orange brandy butter also sounds to die for. Cannot wait to start the celebrations!

    After the huge success of Darina Allen’s ‘Forgotten Skills of Cooking’ back at home in Wales with my parents last Christmas, the addition of her Christmas recipe book really would result in ‘A simply delicious Christmas’.

  26. Rachel says:

    Yes! The ‘meat’ in mincemeat pies always scared this American away! Although, now that I’m in Ireland for my first Christmas, I have tasted these delectable treats and wow! What a treat indeed. Although, the ones I’ve had have been store bought, which, rumour has it, does not at.all. compare to the homemade ones (but, that’s not really a surprise, now is it?). Will I be ambitious enough to make my own this year? Probably not. But I will be on the lookout for the real deal, homemade ones now. Thanks for the recipe, nonetheless. I may be back looking for it next year. Happy Christmas to your family!

  27. Debbie G says:

    OK…I refused to eat “mincemeat” my entire childhood. My dad would just laugh & say “more for me”. Hum…just one of many things we don’t realize we are really missing out on.

  28. Gorgeous images, Imen. There are no mince pies here in Lithuania, nor is there mince available in the shops. I really miss them – as you say, they are such a big part of an Irish Christmas – so I just might give this a go. There’s no beef dripping here, either, so I might try either pork dripping or just plan butter. How bad can it be?

    • Oonagh says:

      Suet is actually the fat from around a cow’s kidneys, could a butcher give you some? If not, butter should be fine, just freeze it then grate it before using so that you get small pieces of fat to mimic suet. Good luck.

  29. gee gee says:

    I’ve been following your blog for just over year, fell upon your site via another fab. food blog; however, I am not one to leave a message. But you have tempted me not only with the delicate delciously looking mince pies, the ever so silky rosemary-mint cake, but with the wonderful Ms. Darnia Allen! Followed a Shepard’s pie recipe from one of her cook books and receieved a heart felt approval from a grace filled Former Vicar General/ Irish Msgr.
    I would, during “this most wonderful time of the year” be delighted to thumb through Ms. Allens’s inspirational cookbook, as family awaits the fruits of its inspiration.
    Be well and a very merry Christmas to you and yours!
    P.S. I liked the idea of the 3rd wreath

  30. Elizabeth says:

    Our tradition is a mincemeat cookie bar. It’s a tradition started by my mother and is a favorite with my children. I do think the word mincemeat is offputting, though I’ve never tasted real minced meat to have formed an opinion one way or the other!

  31. Rhonda says:

    I grew up eating mince meat pies when I was younger and have always loved them. I have to confess that we always bought the starter box though. I love the thought of an old and much loved cookbook. Have a blessed Christmas

  32. Krista says:

    I was scared of mincemeat when I was a child too, but since moving to Australia and marrying a man who ADORES it, I’ve become a big fan. 🙂 What a gorgeous cookbook!!! Wishing you a fantastic holiday. XO

  33. AnSo says:

    Lovely pictures ! I had never heard of mince pies before I spent my first Christmas in Ireland a few years ago. We will definitely try this recipe this time, I can’t wait to see my son’s face when he eats them 🙂

  34. Amy says:

    I’ve stayed away from mince meat (although it’s not very popular where I live) for the same reason! I can’t resist yours, though – they look too pretty. Will be giving this recipe a go! (Also love the beautiful phrase “this fair country” – so lilting and very accurate.)

  35. Missy says:

    Pie & wreath envy. I would love a copy of A Simply Delicious Christmas. Thank you for a lovely post and photos.

  36. Kit Mitchell says:

    The imagery from your text and photos melted me into a very lovely Christmas mood.

  37. Laura says:

    Wow, I can’t believe it keeps that long. Amazing!

  38. Oh me! Oh My! I’m so excited to have won this signed copy of Rochelle Bilow’s THE CALL OF THE FARM. Thank you Imen. Whilst you reckon with your own heart and the turkeys, this book will help me reckon with my suburban blues and farmless living. When in doubt “Bake Pie!”

    Immensely grateful . . .

    Happy Holidays and cheers, Yvonne 🙂

  39. Libbi says:

    I think mince pies are one of my favourite things about moving to the UK. Now I don’t have to make them for extended family!

  40. Sarah says:

    MinceMEAT pie has always been a part of my family’s holiday baking. I didn’t care for it as a child and have yet to come around to it in my adult life. (Probably b/c I haven’t retried it…) Your post, and the lovely individual pies, peaks my curiosity!

  41. Lizzy says:

    I just spent the afternoon with my head buried in the Ballymaloe course cookbook,. I would love to add ” A Simply Delicious. Christmas” to my collection.
    Imen, if you happen to be in Limerick City this coming Friday evening ( and you are not yet tired of mince pies, but how could you be!) , I will be providing mince pies and mulled wine at an art event. We will be at the community garden on Thomas St
    ( across from Eats of Eden) from 6pm to 8pm. It would be really lovely to meet you.
    All the best,

  42. Lorraine says:

    I just made my home-made mince pies today. I follow a recipe from The Pink Whisk blog, she uses orange pastry. They’re really nice, but you would know they were home-made.
    Happy Christmas.

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