Unlike so many of our Christmas traditions, mince pies are not a Victorian invention but can boast a genuinely medieval origin, and indeed some say they can trace their lineage back to pagan festivities. Mince pies were first baked with minced meat (hence the name) and the fruit and spices that we associate with them today. According to folklore, they were first made in oblong casings to represent Jesus's crib, with three spices, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, to represent the three gifts given to the infant Christ by the three wise men. But in 1644, that old killjoy Oliver Cromwell went so far as to denounce mince pies as "abominable and idolatrous things to be avoided by Christians".
Cromwell's Long Parliament passed a statute banning our eating these little treats on Christmas Day, a law that has never been repealed. So they are technically illicit, which can only add to their appeal. Which? magazine rates Marks and Spencer's and the Co-Op's as the best. But does anyone still make them with minced meat?