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Mince pies: England's sweet treats for the Yuletide season

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Here in England, Christmas would not be Christmas without an everpresent tin of homemade individual mince pies. These small pies - filled with a spicy mixture of raisins, currants and sultanas, nuts, and other fruit - have been traditional seasonal fare for centuries.

In the past, of course, mincemeat actually contained meat as one of its principal ingredients; the copious amounts of spice were essential as a preservative.

The Victorians, apparently, were particularly partial to mincemeat and customarily made huge quantities several weeks or even months before Christmas.

One was then supposed to eat a mince pie for each of the 12 days between Christmas and Twelfth Day.

Every home has its own recipe for mince pies. One of the joys of the holiday season is sampling different ones in all the houses that you visit.

In England, it is a poor household that offers ''store bought'' mince pies to their guests or family. Carol singers generally fare well: It is customary to invite them in from the cold for mince pies piping hot from the oven, dusted with a sprinkling of sugar. Mince Pies 12 ounces shortcrust pastry 1 pound homemade mincemeat (see below) 1 egg white, lightly beaten Powdered sugar for sprinkling

Roll out pastry thinly and cut about 20 circles, 3 inches in diameter. Butter appropriate number of patty tins and line with the circles of pastry.

Fill each tin to about half its depth with mincemeat. With remaining rolled pastry, cut out slightly smaller circles for pie lids.

Dampen edges of pie bases with cold water and place lids on top, pressing edges together well to seal.

Make small slit in tops, brush with egg white, and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Bake in preheated hot oven at 425 degrees F. about 20 minutes, or until golden. Transfer to wire rack.

Serve hot or cold. Makes about 20 individual pies. Homemade Mincemeat 2 pounds cooking apples, peeled and cored 3 cups sultanas 3 cups raisins 2 cups currants 1 cup mixed candied peel 8 ounces shredded suet 1 1/2 cups chopped blanched almonds Juice and grated rind of 2 lemons Juice and grated rind of 2 oranges 1 teaspoon ground ginger 1 teaspoon grated nutmeg 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1 cup soft brown sugar

Coarsely mince apples, sultanas, raisins, currants, candied peel, suet, and almonds. Mix together in large bowl with remaining ingredients.

Cover bowl and place in refrigerator for three days, stirring daily to allow flavors to mellow.

Bottle in sterilized jars, cover, seal as for jam, and keep until needed.

Makes about 6 1/2 pounds.

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