Oliver Cromwell, destroyer of mince pies
_I can't say I've ever had mince pie, but I never would have guessed it has such a secretive, mysterious history. Is the mince pie capable of being so subversive that it must be banned?
Well, seventeenth-century Puritans thought so. For Cromwell--(the original Grinch? You tell me!)—Christmas represented a time of excessive drinking, gambling, and all around unwholesome merrymaking—all activities that made the Puritans a bit queasy, and decidedly ungodly.
So, in 1644, Parliament banned Christmas in England. They renamed the day Christ-Tide (you know, to remove the “papist” overtones of Mass). The hanging of holly and ivy was strictly prohibited. Merchants were advised to keep their stores and stalls open (to avoid sloth and idleness). And if soldiers walking by smelled a goose for supper—well, your goose was cooked.
And the poor mince pie? Banned in any public place. Ever since the Crusades, the mince pie had symbolized and honored the birth of Christ. When the Crusaders returned from the Holy Lands, three spices were added to a lamb pie-- cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg--each spice representing the three gifts bestowed upon the Christ child by the Magi. Pies were very small, shaped in the form of a cradle, and eaten throughout the twelve days of Christmas. So to the Puritans, these small pies represented everything that was wrong with Catholicism.
Christmas in the American colonies fared no better. The Massachusetts Bay Company General Court ordered that “whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way, upon any such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for every such offence five shilling as a fine to the county."
Yikes! Five shillings for every offense—that’s got to add up. However, despite these prohibitions, people continued to make mince pies, calling them “shred” or “secret” pies. (Although calling it a secret pie might have defeated the purpose, but so be it).
And for Christmas lovers everywhere, don’t worry. The story ends well.
When Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, the spectacle and merriment of Christmas returned, although it took a little longer in the colonies. And holding a place of honor at the Christmas meal, was the humble mince pie.
So, I'm curious--do people still eat mince pie this side of the pond? Or the other side, for that matter? And more interestingly, what other secrets and lost histories lurk within our everyday traditions and customs?
12/18/2011 10:06:03 pm
Cromwell's brain was full of spiders and he had garlic in his soul. Further, he had all the tender sweetness of a seasick crocodile.
12/27/2011 12:34:05 pm
ha ha! that's hilarious!
12/18/2011 10:19:37 pm
During Cromwell's reign, what would the punishment have been for my treasonous words?
12/18/2011 10:21:30 pm
During Cromwell's reign, how would I have been punished for my treasonous words?
12/27/2011 12:33:19 pm
either your tongue or your ears would have been cut off!
ellie rose elliott
12/26/2011 08:47:26 pm
try this, you even get recipes! for the last 250 years the only meat in it has been the suet, the filling is mostly dried fruits and brown sugar. I used to make mine in a large earthenware jar three months before Christmas, stir well, cover it, keep it in a cold larder and feed it with brandy. the pies [pastry of your choice] are the size of cup cakes and can be eaten hot with cream or cold with assorted festive drinks. Magic!
12/27/2011 12:36:44 pm
Ellie, That's so interesting! thanks for the info; sounds wonderful! I should try next year!
12/27/2011 06:58:40 am
to Matt, Cromwell's heart was a rotten tomato with purple moldy spots or words to that effect. One wonders what sort of psychosis Cromwell suffered from to be so un-Christmasy,
Bekery--poor Cromwell, he thought he was saving the souls of his beloved countrymen by ridding them of such godlessness. I don't know if he suffered from any real psychosis, but he was alleged to have died from his physical ailment--"stone"--which was probably kidney related.
1/8/2012 10:55:09 pm
Well, our family continues to eat mince pies every Christmas on this side of the pond. There's nothing like a home-made mince pie with which to celebrate Christmas (whatever the Puritans may have thought!)
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Historian. Mystery writer. Researcher. Teacher. Occasional blogger.