Thursday, 15 December 2011

''The weather outside is frightful'' however, Medieval mince pies and Victorian mulled wine '' is so delightful''........let it snow, let it snow, let it snow !!!


Victorian mulled wine
 The word "mulled" simply means heated and spiced. Many liquids can be mulled - mead, cider, and of course wine. Mulled wine is a traditional favorite in cooler locations, and goes well with the various celebrations that come around the end of the year. Mulled wines have a long history. In medieval times these wines were called Ypocras or Hipocris, named after the physician Hippocrates. They were thought to be very healthy, and indeed, with wine at the time being far more sanitary than water, these heated drinks probably did keep people healthy through the cold winters.

Moving forward to the 1500s, cookbooks listed methods of mulling "Clarrey", or Bordeaux. Recipes involved honey, cinnamon, cardamon, galingale and of course French wine. Mulled wine was a favorite in Victorian England, and Negus - a type of mulled wine - was even served to children at their birthday parties. 

Mulled wines today are as varied as sangria recipes. There are different styles in every part of the world - some favor using white wine, others red. Some add in only a few spices, while others pour in oranges, cloves, twelve spices and more fruit for colour! Your mulled drink is limited only by your own imagination!

Thing have moved forward in 500 years; rather than just sticking everything into ye pan and hoping for the best, this recipe is a favourite of mine.

Makes about 12 servings

2 unwaxed oranges
1 lemon, peel only
150g caster sugar
5 cloves, plus extra for garnish
5 cardamom pods, bruised
1 cinnamon stick
A pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
2 bottles of fruity, unoaked red wine
150ml ginger wine


1. Peel and juice 1 orange, and add to a large saucepan along with the lemon peel, sugar and spices. Add enough wine to just cover the sugar, and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved, stirring occasionally. Bring to the boil and cook for 5 – 8 minutes until you have a thick syrup.

2. Meanwhile, if you're serving the mulled wine immediately, stud the second orange with 6 vertical lines of cloves, and then cut into segments to use as a garnish.

3. Turn the heat down, and pour the rest of the wine into the saucepan, along with the ginger wine. Gently heat through and serve with the orange segments as a garnish. Alternatively, you can allow the syrup to cool, and pour it into sterilised bottles for use at a later date.

What do you put in your own festive punch – or what would you prefer to be offered instead?
Medieval mince pies
The mince pies we eat today have an ancestry reaching back to Medieval times. During the Medieval period meat and fish pies were often sweetened with dried fruits, sugar and spices. A small pie known as a 'chewette' was based either on meat or fish, depending on whether it was a fasting (non-meat) day or not. These pies were enriched with fruits and spices.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, mince pies, like lumber pies,
were also made in eccentric shapes and arranged in kalaidoscopic form.
They were sometimes called shred or secrets pies.

The Medieval cook had a fondness for using such ingredients as these fruits and spices, most likely because of their 'exotic' nature, just as we today like to seek out ingredients from across the globe. In the 16th century similar pies were known as 'shred', 'shredded' or 'minced' pies - names that described the preparation of the meat content. From the mid 17th century onwards the meat content of the pies gradually reduced, although Mrs Beeton writing 200 years later gave a recipe for mincemeat based on mutton. Now the majority of the mincemeat spooned into our mince pies is meat-free, but much still includes beef suet - and so we continue to eat the distant relations of the Medieval chewette, and the Tudor shred(ded) pie.

''Centuries ago the mince pie would have been a large dish filled with various meats such as chicken, partridge, pigeon, hare, capon, pheasant, rabbits, ox or lamb tongue, livers of the animals, and mutton meat mixed with fruits, peels and sugar. It was originally known as a Christmas Pye.'

During the Medieval Crusades the Crusaders returned to the UK with spices and these were gradually added to mince pies until over the years meat was fully replaced by the spices. At around this time it was thought that the shape changed from oblong to round and the size made smaller.

A great deal of nonsense has been written about the history of mince pies. For instance it has often been said that they were originally made in the form of Christ's crib, while the Eastern spices they contained were emblematic of the three Magi. There is no historical evidence to support these fairy stories.

This Victorian mince-pie recipe (1861) is from Mrs Beeton's cookbook
Mrs Beeton's Mincemeat
This adaptation halves the quantities of the original  but is still enough for around 40 average-sized pies. If you want to make meat-free mince pies, exclude the steak (the original recipe was with mutton) and add a few more currants and candied peel.

375g/12oz raisins
375g/12oz currants
200g/7oz minced rump steak
375g/12oz Atora beef suet
250g/8oz dark muscovado sugar
45g/2oz candied peel
grated nutmeg
375g/12oz peeled, grated apple
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of lemon
75ml/3fl oz brandy

Mix all ingredients up to the apple in a large bowl. Then add the apple, lemon zest and lemon juice and mix again. Add the brandy and give it a really good stir so it coats everything. Fill jars as full as possible, pressing down to exclude air. Cover and leave to mature, preferably at least two weeks, before encasing in shortcrust pastry to make mince pies.

.................and to finish, a brief history of the beautiful Poinsettia plant

Poinsettia plant - coloured pencils

Thousands of years ago, the Aztecs used a plant they called Cuitlaxochitl to make red dye and ease fever. Today that same plant is known around the world as the Poinsettia, a beautiful plant that produces bright red leaves during winter and is now closely associated with Christmas celebrations.
The plant is named for the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico.  Dr. Joel Roberts Poinsett, who introduced America to the Poinsettia in 1828, after discovering it in the wilderness in southern Mexico. Dr. Poinsett, who dabbled in botany when he wasn't politicking between nations, sent cuttings of the plant back to his South Carolina home. While it wasn't initially embraced, its caught on over the years, and by the 20th century it was a holiday mainstay. In fact, National Poinsettia Day is celebrated on Dec 12th, honoring both the plant and the man who brought it to America

So on this Yuletime note, I'd like to wish all my fellow bloggers and followers,
 a peaceful Christmas and  very Happy New Year