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12 Days of Shakespeare: Mince Pies Past & Present

Have a go at some Tudor mince pies and see how they compare to a modern recipe.

Mince Pies

In William Shakespeare’s time people enjoyed mince pies, but they had far more significance than they do today. Mince pies then had thirteen ingredients to represent Jesus and his Apostles. They contained fruit (including raisins, prunes, currants) and spices (including black pepper, cinnamon, saffron, mace, cloves) and also mutton to represent the shepherds in the nativity story. The fashion was for them to be shaped like a crib.

Mince Pie Recipe: 1604

From Hilary Spurling, ed. Elinor Fettisplace’s Recipe Book (Penguin 1986). Reproduced as it was originally written.

Parboile your mutton, then take as much suet as meat, and mince it both small, then put mace and nutmeg and cinnamon and sugar and oringes peels, and currance and great reaisins and a little rosewater, put all these to the meat, beat your spice and oringe peels very small, and mingle your fruit and spice all together with the meat, and so bake it (in pastry) put as much currance as meat and twice so much sugar as salt, put some ginger into it, let the suet bee beef suet, for it is much better than mutton suet.

Today, mince pies are most often enjoyed as a sweet treat, rather than a savoury snack. You might prefer to stick to a modern interpretation of this dish.

Mince Pie Recipe: Present Day

125g currants
125g raisins
125g sultanas
60g dates
60g candied peel
60g flaked almonds
1 banana (mashed)
4tbsp brandy
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp mixed spice 

Shortcut pastry:
125g plain flour
Pinch of salt
55g butter (cold and cubed)
30-45ml cold water 


  • Put the flour and salt into a large bowl and add the cubed butter.
  • Use your fingertips to rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.
  • Using a knife, stir in just enough of the cold water to bind the dough together.
  • Wrap the dough in cling film and chill for 10-15 minutes before using.
  • Combine all of the filling ingredients in a separate bowl.
  • Once chilled, roll out the pastry and cut into circles using a pastry cutter.
  • Place a circle into each space in a cupcake baking tray, pressing it down to line the base.
  • Put a spoonful of filling into each case and place another pastry circle on top.
  • Bake for 10 minutes at 20 degrees Celsius, or gas mark 6.

You might like to try your hand at both recipes and let us know which you think is tastiest!

This recipe comes from one of the hundreds of activities that we've developed for primary school children as part of our annual Shakespeare Week celebrations. Families and schools across the UK can sign-up for free to access resources like this one, helping to bring Shakespeare to life across the whole curriculum.

> Visit our Shakespeare Week website to find out more.


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