Yule Logs, Mince Pies and Mincemeat - Facts, Recipes and History

Mince pies have been a traditional part of my Christmas since childhood.
Mince pies have been a traditional part of my Christmas since childhood. | Source

The Yule Log Cake and Mincemeat - Christmas Traditions

For as long as I can remember, a Yule log cake and mince pies have been a traditional part of my family's Christmas. They are popular treats that have had a long and interesting history, although they've changed from their original form. A Yule log was originally a log of a tree instead of a log-shaped chocolate cake, and mince pies once contained meat instead of a mixture of fruit.

A Yule log cake, or Bûche de Noël, is a chocolate sponge roll filled with chocolate or vanilla cream and covered with chocolate frosting. The cake is decorated to make it look like a log. Sometimes a white frosting is used so that the log looks as though it's covered in snow.

Mince pies are small tarts consisting of a pastry shell filled with mincemeat. The mincemeat is traditionally made from raisins, currants, apples, lemon peel and zest, spices, brown sugar, suet and rum or brandy. The pies may have a lid or may be open. Mince pies are a traditional Christmas treat in Britain and are popular in other countries, too.

A Yule log cake or Buche de Noel
A Yule log cake or Buche de Noel | Source

Pagan History of the Yule Log

Many people think of the word "Yule" as an alternate and slightly old fashioned name for Christmas. Yule was actually the name of a winter solstice celebration enjoyed by pagans in Northern Europe before the introduction of Christianity. It celebrated the end of the shortest day of the year and the approach of longer, warmer days that would be accompanied by the reawakening of nature.

Yule was a festival involving feasting, fun and hope. People brought a large log indoors during the celebration, placed it in a fireplace and set it alight, often after sprinkling it with a libation. The goal was to keep the log burning for at least twelve hours and sometimes for as long as twelve days.

It was important that the Yule log was collected from the family's own land or from a neighbour's instead of being bought from someone. Different cultures had different rules for the type of tree that would be suitable for supplying a Yule log. Oak and ash seem to have been the most popular choices.

A small piece of the burned log was kept to light the next year's log. The burnt piece of wood was believed to have magical properties that would protect the people from evil during the upcoming year and bring them good luck. The ashes produced from the log were also thought to have magical powers and were saved. They were often added to soil to improve the productivity of crops.

A Yule log flavoured with durian and covered with a light frosting
A Yule log flavoured with durian and covered with a light frosting | Source

The Yule Log in Christianity

The custom of burning a Yule log spread through Europe and eventually became incorporated into Christian celebrations. In some areas, including France, a log was brought into a home on Christmas Eve and sprinkled with salt, oil and wine. Prayers were said as the log was set on fire. The log was supposed to burn for twelve hours. As in pagan celebrations, splinters were kept to light the next year's Yule log. Cinders from the burnt log were believed to protect the family from a visitation by the devil.

A Yule log cake with meringue mushrooms
A Yule log cake with meringue mushrooms | Source

The Yule Log Today

The custom of burning a Yule log became less common as fireplaces decreased in size and could no longer accommodate large logs that would stay alight for hours or days. For some modern pagans and Christians a Yule log is still meaningful, however, and has a spiritual or religious significance. It's often a small log that is placed on a table and decorated with greenery and candles.

For most people today, the term "Yule log" is synonymous with a cake. The substitution of a cake for a real log is thought to have begun in the nineteenth century. The cake is a sweet roulade. A roulade is made by rolling a flat layer of food around a filling. Savoury roulades are often made by spreading a cheese, egg or vegetable mix on a piece of meat and then rolling the meat up. Sweet roulades are usually made from flat sponge cake covered with a sweet filling. A Swiss roll is a type of sweet roulade.

How to Make Meringue Mushrooms

The Yule Log Cake or Buche de Noel

A Yule log cake is covered with chocolate frosting so that it resembles a log. The surface of the cake is decorated for even more realism. The decorations often include the creation of ridges and circles in the frosting in order to produce a bark-like texture on the cake and the appearance of tree rings at its ends. They may also include a sprinkle of powdered sugar to give the impression of snow. Some cakes contain a shorter roll of cake attached to the main roll at an angle to resemble a branch.

Holly leaves and berries made of marzipan may be added to a Yule log to provide Christmas colours. Christmas figures such as snow men and Santa Claus may be placed on the top. In some countries, meringue mushrooms are traditionally placed around the log. Twigs of spruce are sometimes placed around the log as well as or instead of the mushrooms.

The cake and filling of a log are often chocolate-flavoured, but sometimes the cake or the cream are vanilla based and are light in color. Jam may also be used as a filling, although a cream filling is more common.

The Bûche de Noël is especially popular in France. It's traditionally served at the end of the réveillon or feast that's held after midnight mass on Christmas Eve.

Christmas Chocolate Log and Sponge Cake Recipe

History of Mince Pies

"Mince" refers to finely chopped meat and "mincemeat" is the filling for mince pies. There is no meat in today's mince pies, however.

The forerunner of the mince pie was the Christmas pie. This was originally a large, rectangular pie filled with different types of meat and spices. The earliest mentions of Christmas pies date from the time of the Crusaders and their introduction of exotic new spices to Britain. There are claims that the shape of the pies represented the manger of the baby Jesus. Some researchers doubt this story, though. The pies were said to have a "coffin" shape, which was a common term that simply meant a shape like a basket.

During the Tudor period the pies were sometimes known as shrid or shred pies and were very popular. They were made from meats such as beef, mutton, rabbit and beef tongue as well as various birds.

Christmas pies containing only meat were available even in Victorian times, but by then pies containing meat and fruit were available as well. In the past, a mixture of savoury and sweet foods in one dish was more popular than it is today. Fruit was added to the Christmas pie mix at least as early as 1725, as shown by the Little Jack Horner nursery rhyme quoted below. A mincemeat recipe from 1788 shows that the mixture consisted mainly of fruit by that time, although it did contain tripe.

Little Jack Horner

Sat in a corner,

Eating a Christmas Pie;

He put in his thumb,

And pulled out a plum,

And said, "What a good boy am I!"

— Henry Carey, in the year 1725

Homemade Vegetarian Mincemeat Recipe

Mince Pies Today

Mince pies may have no lid, a star-shaped cover to represent the star that guided the Wise Men or a full cover. I like the ones with no lids, since I prefer the taste of the mincemeat to the taste of the pastry. Mince pies are very nice to eat on their own, but they are also delicious with ice cream.

Today the only remnant of meat in mince pies is the beef suet. This is sometimes replaced by butter or by vegetarian suet, which contains palm oil. It's possible to buy or make mince pies that don't contain any rum or brandy, if this is preferred.

Interestingly, modern recipes for large "Christmas Pies" containing all meat or meat and fruit are available today. It's therefore possible to enjoy these as people did in the past as well as enjoy the taste of mince pies.

The interior of a mince pie showing the mincemeat
The interior of a mince pie showing the mincemeat | Source

Mince Pie Traditions

There are some interesting traditions associated with mince pies.

  • When making mincemeat at home, the mixture must always be stirred in a clockwise direction. Stirring in an anticlockwise direction is said to bring bad luck during the upcoming year.
  • Cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves must be added to represent the three gifts of the Wise Men to the baby Jesus.
  • One mince pie should be eaten on each of the twelve days of Christmas to ensure good luck. The last should be eaten on January 6th, or Epiphany.
  • A wish should be made as the first pie is eaten.
  • Refusing to eat a mince pie will lead to bad luck.

Family traditions related to food are often a wonderful part of Christmas. They can make an important and meaningful contribution to a very special time of year.

Mince Pies Recipe

© 2013 Linda Crampton

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Comments 42 comments

DDE profile image

DDE 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

Yule Logs, Mince Pies and Mincemeat - Facts and History is an interesting and informative hub. Mince Pies have been my favorite for ages and now I know more about the facts and history.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you for the comment, DDE. Mince pies are one of my favourite Christmas foods, too!


billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

You know, I have never had mincemeat. Thank you for the history and information, Alicia. Very interesting.


CraftytotheCore profile image

CraftytotheCore 2 years ago

This is such a beautiful Hub! My great-grandmother was from England. When I was about 3 or so, she passed away. But I certainly remember the smell in her home. It was such a sweet and rewarding smell to my senses. Just last year, I finally received a copy of her cookie recipes. My favorite one is a mincemeat cookie. I don't really care too much for the flavor of it. But it smells so good. I seriously want to make it in to a candle scent.


Faith Reaper profile image

Faith Reaper 2 years ago from southern USA

Awesome Alicia! I love mince meat pie. My mom would always make it. Fascinating history here...how interesting for sure. Love all the photos and videos. Now, I am so hungry! Excellent hub. Up and more and sharing. Blessings, Faith Reaper


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Bill. Thanks for the visit. Since I have a British background, I've eaten mince pies and mincemeat since childhood. They're both readily available in the stores here in Canada, too, which makes me happy!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Crafty. It's interesting to hear that you like the smell of mincemeat but not the taste. Mincemeat cookies sound delicious to me! Thank you for the comment.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much, Faith. It's nice to hear of another mincemeat fan! As always, I appreciate the votes and the share. Blessings to you, too!


WriterJanis profile image

WriterJanis 2 years ago from California

I never knew that Yule logs were actual logs used. I've only known of them as a yummy dessert.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, WriterJanis. I think that the history of food can be very interesting! Thanks for the visit.


bdegiulio profile image

bdegiulio 2 years ago from Massachusetts

How interesting Linda. You know I don't think I've never had mincemeat either. I must be living under a rock :) It all sounds and looks yummy. Interesting history. Happy Holidays.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Bill. Thanks for the visit and the comment. I hope you have a very happy holiday, too!


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 2 years ago from England

That was fascinating Alicia, I sort of knew about the Yule log but not that much, and as for eating mince pies one a day...um....lol! I have already eaten at least 10! voted up and shared! nell


DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 2 years ago from Oakley, CA

Very nicely done, with clear explanations and history. I've read the recipe for Yule logs, and I'm scared to try it. Somehow, I think I'll wind up with a plateful of crumbs by the time I flop it out of the pan, roll it to cool; unroll to fill and re-roll to finish!

I love mince pie; my husband hates it, so I don't make it. However, I just had an epiphany of my own: I was just gifted a pasta maker complete with ravioli rollers. It occurred to me that I could make mince "ravioli" mini-tarts, brush with butter, sprinkle with sugar and bake them, instead of boiling. These could easily be frozen...

The jar of mince"meat" my daughter just gave me contains no lard or suet, so as a vegetarian, that's perfect for me! She likes to just eat it plain; neither of us is a fan of pie crust. For us, it's just a "box" to hold the good part of the dessert. LOL

Voted up, useful, interesting, shared and pinned.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Nell. I don't stop at one mince pie a day, either - and I've already had some this December as well! Thank you very much for the vote and the share - I appreciate them both.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, DzyMsLizzy. I agree with you - the pie crust is simply a box for the yummy part of the pie! I haven't tried eating mincemeat right out of a jar because I know I'd find it hard to stop! I like the sound of your mini-tarts. I do make mince pies sometimes instead of buying them, but I always buy my Yule log. It does look time consuming and a bit tricky to make! Thank you very much for the votes and the shares.


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

What a fascinating and thorough hub. History,and how to make them. Wonderful pictures.. Mincemeat is one of my favorites and I don't think I have ever tried a Yule Log. Maybe this year. :) Merry Christmas !


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, phdast7. Thank you very much for the visit! I appreciate your comment. Merry Christmas to you, too!


KDeus profile image

KDeus 2 years ago from Florida

A very interesting hub! I have never tried a Yule Log nor Mincemeat, either. I will definitely pin this to try sometime! Voted up, shared, and pinned! Merry Christmas!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the comment, the vote and the shares, KDeus! I appreciate them all. Merry Christmas to you, too. I hope you have an enjoyable holiday!


WiccanSage profile image

WiccanSage 2 years ago

First... you are making me very hungry. Second, this is an awesome little tidbit to know, I really love holiday entertaining and parties and traditional foods and it's nice to know more about them. I really must think about baking a yule log this year.


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 2 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

All those pictures of cake and mince pies has made my mouth water! Interesting hub and thanks for the great information on our favourite Christmas treats. Hope you have a very Happy Christmas and a fabulous 2014


prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 2 years ago from malang-indonesia

Wow...it sound delicious, Alicia. I love the history of Yule log cake and mince pies. I had never heard about this cake before. Thanks for sharing with us. Voted up :-)

Prasetio


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, WiccanSage. I love traditional foods during the holidays, too. Good luck if you decide to make a Yule log!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Cynthia. Thanks for the comment! I hope that you have a great Christmas and that 2014 is a joyful and successful year for you.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Prasetio. Thank you very much for the visit, the comment and the vote! If you ever try mince pies and a Yule log, I hope you enjoy them.


MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 2 years ago from South Africa

Wow! Love the history. In South Africa mince pies are still pies filled with minced beef. A visitor of England could not believe his eyes when I served this instead of minced-fruit pies - after he had mentioned that he would love to have a mince pie.

Lol!

Pies filled with minced fruit are rare down here. We have fruit cake, fruit puddings, fruit salads and tons of fresh fruit.

Interesting! Thanks, Alicia :)


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

That's such a funny story, Martie! It would be a shock for someone expecting a small pie with a sweet, fruity taste to get a meat pie instead. Thank you for the comment. I hope you have a very happy Christmas.


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 2 years ago from United States

Some members of my family really like mincemeat and make pies at the holidays. The history you wrote was really interesting.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks, Pamela. I appreciate your visit.


drbj profile image

drbj 2 years ago from south Florida

Hi, Alicia, I'm so glad that the tradition of the Yule log has been translated to a delicious chocolate treat. So much more tasty than the original. :)


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, drbj. Yes, a Yule log cake is a delicious tradition! I hope you have a very happy Christmas.


aviannovice profile image

aviannovice 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

Back in Maine, the old timers DID make the mince pie with deer meat, and it was called mincemeat pie. Those really are the best! Great article reminded me of days gone by. Good work, Alicia!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks for the comment and for sharing the interesting story about mincemeat pie, Deb!


carole 2 years ago

love your recipes,and the stories behind them, you can't beat an old family recipe


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you, carole. It's fun to investigate food traditions. The recipes in the videos are interesting!


Minnetonka Twin profile image

Minnetonka Twin 2 years ago from Minnesota

What a fun and informative hub Alicia. My family has a yule log cake every Christmas Eve. It's become a fun tradition and the cakes are so tasty. I have never cared for mince meat pie. I think it's a taste you have to grow up with or you may not care for it. Happy New Year!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Linda. Thank you very much for the comment. I agree, Yule logs are delicious! Unlike you, though, I love mince pies as well! Best wishes for 2014.


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 2 years ago

It has been several years since I've enjoyed a yule log, maybe this year I will make one to enjoy. Thanks for the history on it. Also, I enjoyed reading about the mince pie traditions. Now, this is one I have not tasted but you make it sound really fun and delightful.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks, Dianna. I think that mince pies are delicious! I don't know how much longer they'll be on sale in my local stores. It's quite easy to make my own, though!


CarolynEmerick profile image

CarolynEmerick 2 years ago

wish I had seen this before Yuletide! Not that I remotely bake, I won't even attempt it! But, I run some pages with large followings who are interested in Old Yule! Would have shared it! I will try to keep a better look out for your seasonal posts from now on :-)


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks, Carolyn! I find it very interesting to explore the original celebration of Yule. Tracing the development of our modern customs - when this can be done - is fascinating!

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    Linda Crampton (AliciaC)1,250 Followers
    427 Articles

    Linda Crampton is a teacher with an honours degree in biology. She enjoys exploring nutrition as well as the culture and history of food.



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