Centuries ago the mince pie would have been a large dish filled with various meats such as chicken, partridge, pigeon, hare, capon, pheasant, rabbits, ox or lamb tongue, livers of the animals, and mutton meat mixed with fruits, peels and sugar. It was originally known as a Christmas Pye.
The oblong or square shape was said to resemble Jesus’ cradle. A small doll made from pastry was placed on the top in the centre of the pie where the hollow indentation would be. These were known as Crib Pies.
During the Medieval Crusades the Crusaders returned to the UK with spices and these were gradually added to mince pies until over the years meat was fully replaced by the spices. At around this time it was thought that the shape changed from oblong to round and the size made smaller.
1413 – King Henry V of England served a mincemeat pie at his coronation in 1413. King Henry VIII liked his Christmas pie to be a main-dish pie filled with mincemeat.
1545 – A cookbook from the mid 16th century that also includes some account of domestic life, cookery and feasts in Tudor days, called A Proper newe Booke of Cokerye, declarynge what maner of meates be beste in season, for al times in the yere, and how they ought to be dressed, and serued at the table, bothe for fleshe dayes, and fyshe dayes, has a recipe for a pie that sounds alot like a modern day mincemeat pie:
To make Pyes – Pyes of mutton or beif must be fyne mynced and ceasoned wyth pepper and salte, and a lyttle saffron to coloure it, suet or marrow a good quantite, a lyttle vyneger, prumes, greate raysins and dates, take thefattest of the broathe of powdred beyfe, and yf you wyll have paest royall, take butter and yolkes of egges and so tempre the flowre to make the paeste.
1588 – In the 1588 Good Hous-Wiues Treasurie by Edward Allde, meats were still cut up to be eaten with a spoon and combined with fruits and heavy spices. Typical was his recipe for Minst Pye which used practically the same ingredients that go into a modern mince pie.
1657 – During the reign of Oliver Cromwell they were banned along with other Christian traditions and acts. When they were reintroduced to Britain their size was again reduced, to the size as they are today, so that they could be served individually, especially to guests. They were named Wayfarer Pies.
1659 – In 1659, Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan influence spread across the Atlantic ocean to American British Colonies, and many towns of New England went so far as to actually ban mincemeat pies at Christmas time. Christmas was actually banned in Boston from 1659 to 1681. Those celebrating it were fined.
1853 – Quaker Elizabeth Ellicott Lea explained in her book called Domestic Cookery that was published in 1853: “Where persons have a large family, and workmen on a farm, these pies are very useful.” By useful, she meant that the pies could be baked in large numbers, and more importantly, during cold weather, they could be kept for as long as two months. The mincemeat could be made ahead and kept even longer.
(Ref: http://www.uttertrivia.com/mincepies.php and http://whatscookingamerica.net/History/PieHistory/MincemeatPie.htm )