Today isn’t just for the American tradition of autumn pumpkins…it also brings to light a British food tradition, too! Americans always get the wrong idea about mincemeat pies…mostly, that they have meat in them. (I mean, it would only make sense…) But British foods are far more complicated than that. Mince pies used to have meat in them, back when they were invented in the 13th century. The returning soldiers from the Crusades brought back many treasures from the Middle East, including the culinary wonder of combining chopped meat, fruit, and spices to make a hearty and tasty meal. The British, who always love putting things into pastry, made this into the stuffing of mincemeat pies, and it became a Christmas tradition. As the centuries went on, however, the mincemeat went from savory to sweet, with more fruit and nuts being used and less meat, until the “meat” part of mincemeat was eliminated. Nowadays, mincemeat pies are enjoyed at Christmastime by Brits all over the world, but you’ll find them cooked and sold at bakeries and pastry shops, not the butcher’s.
(This, however, is totally different from actual meat pies, which are always savory and never include fruit. Those are still in full force in Britain, too!)
If you’ve never had a mince meat pie, you’re in for a treat. You don’t have to travel all the way to London for a bite–just head to the West Village, where a small enclave known affectionately as Little Britain has everything you need. Old-style pubs and British eateries are all over this area, catering to expats and anglophiles alike, but Myers of Keswick is one of the best. Part cafe, part specialty store, Myers of Keswick has been dedicated for the past quarter-century to offering all the culinary comforts of home to lonely Brits who can’t seem to find their food anywhere–both brand-name and home-cooked. And just in time for the season, they’re offering freshly baked mince pies, which will be available through Christmas. Get there early, because while they’re baked in-house daily, they go really quickly (particularly for British food!) so snagging one can turn out to be a big deal. While you’re there, check out their other exclusively British brand-name foods that sound too wacky and weird for us Yanks to ever try. I’m gonna go and see if they have the green apple muesli I became addicted to while I lived over there!
Myers of Keswick
634 Hudson St (between Horatio St & Jane St)
“A Mince Pie is a British festive sweet pastry, traditionally consumed during the Christmas and New Year period. Mince Pies normally have a pastry top, but versions may also be found without the top in which case they are known as mince tarts. Mince pies are filled with mincemeat. The preserve contains apple, spices and dried fruits such as raisins and sultanas.”–Myers of Keswick
“Myers, 65, turned over control of the shop to his daughter, Jennifer Myers Pulidore, in 2007, but still appears during busy periods, such as the Christmas holiday season, when the shop produces up to 500 pounds of its sausages daily, along with sausage rolls, meat pies and Cornish pasties, and wickedly good miniature mincemeat pies. Myers’s sausages appear on tables at Balthazar, Pastis and the Pierre, Mark and Stanhope hotels; its mince pies are equally sought after. “We could make those 24 hours a day and still not keep up with demand,” says Myers.”–Edible Manhattan
“Myers of Keswick allows you to enjoy this same great tradition by offering fresh mince pies, baked daily on premises at New York City’s finest British grocery store. Other festive treats that invite the traditional British Christmas into your home with goodies from Myers of Keswick include christmas pudding, fruit cake, and handmade christmas cake with icing. Shortbread and christmas pudding sauce are also fun, seasonal treats.”–Nearsay
“In the age of the Crusades, mince pies (aka mincemeat pies and Christmas pies) were made with three spices to commemorate the wise men’s gifts. Today, the predominantly sweet, meatless creations — stuffed instead with a preserve of fresh and dried fruits, spices and nuts — are a staple at holiday meals in the U.K. and a favorite treat to leave for Father Christmas.”–AM New York
“Mince pie gets a bad rap in America. Perhaps it’s the name, which you might associate with a savory meat pie. But head to England and you’ll find it in most bakery windows. Mincemeat is not meat at all, but finely chopped or minced fruit mixed with spices and dried fruits, and it happens to be delicious. Myers of Keswich is trying to keep this UK classic alive with their fresh The good news is that the impending holiday madness means Myers of Keswick will be baking fresh mince pies through the Christmas holiday.”–Restaurant Girl
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“I was looking for freshly made Mince Meat pie that my friends discussed at dinner one night, so I was determined to find freshly made Minced Meat pies. I went to Myers of Keswick in the hopes that my friends craving would be cured. This is a quaint shop in the West Village and they have so many freshly made meat and sausage pies. This shop has lots of canned goods and other market items from England as well. If you want to order Minced Meat pies for the holidays, they have small pies and do not make a larger version if you want this size. My trip was successful, because my friends loved the Minced Meat Pie which I brought to them on the same day that I purchased them. If only they had a larger size.”–David O.
“I went MK to grab some sweetens for Boxing day party at my boss’s place and really had a FUN to hear British accent and see all the goodies! their Mince Pie and fresh homemade sausage were the top of the note!”–Julie K.
But, considering we are New Yorkers and this IS America, I do realize that just even saying the word “meat” in a mince meat pie makes some people salivate like Pavlovian dogs. We don’t want chopped fruit and nuts in a pie, we want meat, dammit!! XD Well, not every former colony of Great Britain made the mincemeat tradition from a pie-with-meat to a pie-without-meat. In Australia and New Zealand, mince meat pies are still made in the savory tradition, and sometimes, even more off-the-wall ingredients are added to make them stand out in a pastry shop. We’ve got no other national food holidays for meat pies (or formerly meat pies) on the calendar, so I’ve just got to tell you about the Australian bake shop outpost in Brooklyn called the Pie Shop. Proudly baking down under-style savory pies, the Pie Shop, owned by New Zealander Gareth Hughes, makes all of their pies with imported ingredients essential to the baking process, like New Zealand margarine. These meat pies really hit you hard with the “meat” aspect: unlike the smooth, ground meat you find in Jamaican beef patties, Australian meat pies have big chunks of chopped steak, stewed onions, and a delicious gravy baked into every fluffy, flaky pillow of crust. You can get many different varieties at the Pie Shop, sometimes called DUB (Down Under Bakery), like vegetarian curry and Thai chicken, but the one I want to snag is the meat and cheese pie–it’s New Zealand’s answer to the Philly cheese steak! The Brits may have abandoned the meat in mince meat in lieu of sweet Christmas pies, but the Aussies and Kiwis know what’s up, and what’s filling, and that will always be a good bit of steak ;-D
The Pie Shop
211 Prospect Park W (between Bartel Pritchard Sq & 16th St), Windsor Terrace
““The meat pie is as essential to Kiwis as pizza is to New Yorkers,” says Hughes, who bakes twelve variations monthly from a library of three dozen recipes. Wrapped in a flaky crust that’s flavored in part by a lard-margarine shortening imported from the owner’s homeland, the pies come filled with savory mixtures like chunky steak (with or without cheese), mushrooms and onions, and old-school steak and kidney.”–New York Magazine
“Despite its New Zealand origins, DUB officially serves what they call Australian/New Zealand-style gourmet meat pies in flavours such as Thai chicken curry, steak and cheese as well as steak and mushroom, becoming a popular and convenient bar snack with hungry drinkers in Brooklyn.”–Ustralian
“The meat pie is really the perfect American snack food. Their classic steak & cheese pie, for instance, is like a croissant encrusted Philly cheese steak. Akin to an empanada, samosa or Jamaican patty, these delicious meaty (or veggie) orbs are handheld, therefore easy to transport, and equally suited to a slick indoor party as they are to a picnic in the park. Arguably though, their most natural bedfellows may well be beer and sports.”–Dekalb Market
“Gareth takes his pie-making seriously. He imports the lard-margarine combination that accounts for the pastry’s flakiness from his homeland. The fillings are likewise accorded the attention required to achieve that ideal balance between gravy and meat, moisture and bite. Although purists (yo!) will look no further than the classic chunky steak in an oniony gravy, with or without mushrooms ($5.50), the selection of fillings is impressive. You can order your pie “neat,” or as part of a platter that includes mashed potatoes and mushy peas ($11). The second option would seem to preclude eating the pie out of your hand—the house-approved M.O.—but I prefer the stodgy knife and fork anyway.”–Examiner
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“meat pies and sausage rolls that take me right back to australia. we went with the classic mince and mince/cheese (and of course the sausage roll, not to be overlooked – delicious). i was hoping they would be a little cheaper since you really need two to fill you up as an actual meal (one for a snack). regardless, we’ll be back soon. we left with 4 mince for the road – they cooked nicely in the oven on 350 for 16 mins.”–Philippa S.
“I grew up eating mince & cheese pies, mutton pies, chicken vegetable pies in NZ. Pop em in the microwave, grab some ketchup, add a little tobasco and voila, comfort food goodness to the max. And since moving to the US, I’ve never heard/seen a Kiwi style pie until I came to NYC. That’s when I saw a Dub Pie stand at the medieval festival at Fort Tryon and as they say, the rest was history. I, without a doubt will make Dub Pie a frequent destination/visit for their pies, and also Sausage Rolls! Thank you Dub Pie for letting me re-live my childhood comfort food experience on a perfect Saturday evening.”–Nick I.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!