We know them as spicy little mouthfuls, seasoned
with cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg, plumped with
brandy and encased in crumbly pastry that makes an
appearance at Christmastime. But these pies have a
long history often steeped in legend. They have been
transformed from mounds of lard and mutton to tasty,
elegant tarts. According to author Janet Clark, author of
“Pie: A History,” pies were initially just meant to be con-tainers
that would act as vessels to keep meat preserved
in fat. Spicy meat pies have been relished in England
ever since the Crusaders brought spices back from the
Middle East in the 12th century.
In the English cookbook, “A Forme of Cury” — origi-nally
written on a scroll documenting a compendium
of medieval recipes — contains a recipe from 1390 for
a pie of meat and spices. They were called “Tartes of
Flesh” and ingredients included ground pork, hard-boiled
eggs, spices of saffron and sugar. Ingredients like
honey and dried fruit were expensive in medieval times
and the combination of these were only ever for the rich
who used them to show off social status.
Originally oval, mince pies were meant to repre-
Second only to the traditional Christmas pudding is the classic British trifle, making an
appearance on Boxing Day and again on New Year’s Eve.
The word “trifle” — pronounced Tri-fuhl — according to “What’s Cooking America,”
comes from the old French term “trufle,” meaning something whimsical or of little conse-quence.
They also tell us that a proper English trifle is made with real egg custard which is
poured over sponge cake or finger biscuits which have been soaked in fruit and sherry and
topped off with whipped cream.
Many puddings originated as a way of using up stale leftovers of bread and cake and
trifle originated much the same way as the Italian “Zuppa Ingles” (English Soup), or the
Spanish dessert called “Bizcocho Borracho.”
The first mention of ‘triel’ was a thickened spiced cream at the end of the 16th century.
As early as 1598 the translator, John Florio, referred to ‘’A kinde of clouted creame called
a foole or a trifle in English.’’ Trifle has changed over the centuries both in appearance,
ingredients, and taste. Trifle in the Tudor period combines cream and rosewater, flavored
with ginger, spices, and sugar. By the 18th century, there were recipes for macaroons and
sponge fingers, soaked in sack (a white fortified wine) and covered with jelly, custard, and
flowers. It was during the Victorian era that trifle soared in popularity.
There is no classic trifle recipe or rules that constitute a “real” trifle. There is no consen-sus
as to canned fruit, fresh fruit or no fruit at all. Some (like me) only use strawberry jam
instead of fruit. Many people do a layer of sponge or finger biscuits, then a layer of custard
and a layer of whipped cream and repeat the process.