There’s something really special about the first mince pie of every Christmas season, don’t you think? It doesn’t always have to be a particularly nice one; it’s the atmosphere surrounding it that makes it such a special event, and for me it means that I’ve finally got over the “Bah, humbug” spirit of too much tinsel, too early, in too many odd places.
This year my first mince pie was at Hengistbury Head, along with a hot cup of coffee to warm me up after a walk through frosty crispness with my family. Fantastic! And I knew that December had begun and I was going to start feeling Christmassy.
But my best, first mince pie, was one from my childhood – in fact, I was lucky enough for it to have been a series of best firsts. When I was little my parents were regular churchgoers, and they supported a very small, rural village church, with an even smaller congregation. It was a farming community, and the family of three brothers and a sister who lived next door to the church were the spine of the community, and the backbone of that church’s congregation, performing nearly all its vital functions apart from taking the services themselves.
Every year, that family held a carol singing gathering in their generous sitting room, warmed by a large log fire as well as by the strength of belief radiating from the friends seated around it. Part way through the proceedings, the sister of that family would produce a piled plateful of warm mince pies. The pastry melted in your mouth as it can only do when rolled with care in a home kitchen, and the mincemeat was sweet and spicy.
When you get a best first like this, you sometimes don’t realise exactly how special it is until later; even if you appreciate it and savour the moment (along with the pie!) its true value sometimes only becomes apparent later. I was uniquely lucky in this regard with my best first mince pies, because I got to enjoy them as a child, but I also enjoyed one during my first Christmas holiday after I had spent 3 months away from home. The relief from home sickness and the warmth of the familiar hearth, combined into heady sweetness with those mince pies – I can’t tell you how much that little pastry parcel meant to me that year!
Things are different in that community now, and my life is very different. My children don’t have the same Christmas traditions, of course, and they don’t quite get my fondness for mince pies! Perhaps I need to start practising my pastry making skills and start a new family tradition?
So, tell me, when was your best, first mince pie…..?