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Christmas brings with it an onslaught of delicious food and drink; mulled wine, spiced cider and, of course, mince pies. But just how did we come to feast on these festive delights year after year? Well, here's the tale of our top three Christmas treats...

Mulled wine can be traced back to the Roman era, but it wasn't until the 14th century that the mix of wine, fruit and spices gained its name from an Old English word meaning, quite fittingly, "muddled." It is thought that the process of mulling wine was first employed as a way to save wine that was about to spoil, though it eventually became a beverage in its own right, often referred to as "Smoking Bishop". It was the novelist Charles Dickens who gave mulled wine its festive status, securing it as a traditional Christmas drink with a mention in his beloved "A Christmas Carol".

Ingredients

  • 1 750ml bottle of red wine
  • 1 peeled and sliced orange
  • Large splash of brandy
  • 8-10 cloves
  • 3-4 tbls of honey or sugar
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 teaspoons fresh or 2 tsp ground ginger

Method: Pop all of the ingredients in a large pot and gently warm on low to medium heat for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure the honey or sugar has completely dissolved. When the wine is steaming and the ingredients have been well blended it's ready to serve. Ladle the mulled wine into mugs or vintage-style teacups and enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 1 litre cider
  • 200ml sloe gin
  • 6 cloves
  • Four cinnamon sticks
  • Sugar or honey
  • A sliced orange or two

Method: To start, pour the cider into a saucepan, add the spices and bring slowly to the boil. As soon as the cider starts to simmer, turn off the heat and add the sloe gin and oranges. Finally, stir in honey or sugar to taste and serve straight away in heat-proof glasses. Delicious.

Mulled cider has been drunk during the winter festivities for at least as long as mulled wine and is the descendant of a much older drink called wassail. Made from roasted apples, sugar, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg, with a topping of sliced toast, it was knocked back by many in the south-west of England as an integral part of wassailing - an ancient drinking ritual intended to ensure a good cider apple harvest the following year.

Spice-laden meat pies have been devoured in England ever since the Crusaders brought spices back from the Middle East in the 12th century. At Christmas time, the pies were studded with expensive dried fruit, transported all the way from Greece. Today we worry about what too many of these bite-sized delights will do to our waistlines, but during Oliver Cromwell's reign, it was rumoured to be believed that eating a mince pie on Christmas day would get you arrested. Festive treats were reportedly banned as part of efforts to tackle gluttony, but thankfully the ruling didn't survive when Charles II became king. Up until the 19th century, recipes summoned for equal parts of minced cooked mutton, beef suet, currants and raisins. Today though, it's just a dollop of liquor-plumped fruit. Resistance is futile.

Ingredients

FOR THE MINCEMEAT FILLING

  • 110g sultanas
  • 170g raisins
  • 170g currants
  • 170g grated bramley apples
  • 110g suet
  • 200g soft brown sugar
  • 100g finely chopped mixed peel
  • 65g blanched and chopped almonds
  • ½ tbsp mixed spice
  • The zest and juice of 1 orange
  • Large splash of brandy

FOR THE PASTRY

  • 170g plain flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar
  • 1 small egg
  • 1-2 tbsp cold water,ange
  • Large splash of brandy

Method: For the best home-made mince pies, it's always worth making the mincemeat filling a month or so in advance so that it develops a good depth of flavour. Making it couldn't be easier: simply mix together all of your ingredients in a bowl. Store your mixture in a sealed, sterilised jar and it will keep for up to 12 months.

Now for the pastry. After preheating your oven to 200C/gas 6/fan 180C, start by rubbing together the butter and flour, mixing in the golden caster sugar and a pinch of salt. Roll this mixture into a ball and knead it briefly, before leaving to stand for 20 minutes.

Line a patty tin with walnut-sized balls of pastry and spoon in your mincemeat. Take slightly smaller balls of pastry and pat them out between your hands to make round lids, big enough to cover the pies. Top the pies with their lids, pressing the edges gently together to seal. Beat 1 small egg and brush the tops of the pies. Bake for 20 minutes until golden. Leave to cool in the tin for five minutes, then dust with icing sugar to serve.

Festive Treats: A History - Just why does the arrival of Chrisatmas have us hankering after mince pies? Mulled WineMulled CiderCaravan CardiMince PiesLeaping Shirt Explore The Christmas Collection online now...Shop The Collection



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