These Cambridge Lent Pies are eaten before the start and at the end of Lent, which ends at Easter. The 40 days of Lent is traditionally a time of fasting in the Christian calender, and these pies were a way of acknowledging the start and end of the period. These particular Lent Pies are a speciality of the Cambridgeshire region, being served at the all the great University Colleges in the past. Today only a small number of people fast for the whole of Lent, although some maintain the practice on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
Lent is an Old English word meaning ‘lengthen’, because it is observed in the spring, when the days begin to get longer. Yet while both the eastern and western Christian churches observe Lent, they count the 40 days differently. The western church excludes Sundays (which is celebrated as the day of Christ’s resurrection) whereas the eastern orthodox church includes them. The churches also start Lent on different days. Western churches start Lent on the 7th Wednesday before Easter Day (called Ash Wednesday). While Eastern churches start Lent on the Monday of the 7th week before Easter and end it on the Friday 9 days before Easter and call this period the ‘Great Lent’.
Cambridge Lent Pie Recipe
These Lent Pies are very much like the traditional fruit mince-pie eaten at Christmas, in shape and ingredients, although there are some differences. If possible, make the Lent Pie filling up a week or more in advance to let it mature.
to make the Lent Pie filling
- 500g currants
- 500g raisins
- 250g mixed citrus peel, chopped into small dice
- 500g apples, peeled, cored and chopped fairly small
- 350g natural demerara (brown) sugar
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp grated nutmeg
- 2 lemons (zest and juice)
- 175ml Brandy
- 400ml White Wine
later, when making the pies add to the filling
- 12 Eggs, hard-boiled (chopped small)
to make the Lent Pie pastry
- 350g plain flour, sifted
- 60g caster sugar
- 175g unsalted butter, diced
- 1 large free-range egg
- beaten egg and milk wash, to glaze
For The Lent Pie Filling: (made in advance)
Wash all the dried fruit thoroughly in a colander under the cold tap – whatever it says on the packet, washing the fruit is something you should do. Tip the fruit on to clean tea towels and dry by patting in the cloths.
Put the dried fruit in a very large mixing bowl with the chopped apples, sugars and spices. Grate the zest of the lemons into the bowl, then squeeze in the juice. Tip in the chopped mixed citrus peel and stir in the alcohol. Mix all the ingredients for the Lent Pies very thoroughly – it’s easiest to do this with your hands. Cover and leave to stand for 24 hours.
Pack the Lent Pie mixture into sterilised or dishwasher-clean jars (Kilner type jars are ideal) and top with greaseproof paper jam covers. Seal the jars tightly and store in a cool place. The Lent Pie mixture is best used within 6 months.
To Make The Lent Pies:
Lightly butter a 12-hole deep pie tin.
Hard-boil 12 eggs.
Place the flour, sugar, and butter in a food processor and process briefly until resembling breadcrumbs, then slowly add the egg through the feeder tube. (Or rub the butter into the dry ingredients by hand and stir in the egg when you have made breadcrumbs). Bring the mixture together with your hands, wrap in cling-film and chill for an hour or so in the fridge.
Preheat the oven to 190°C
Cut the pastry into 2 unequal pieces, about two-thirds to one-third. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the large piece of pastry to about 3mm thick. Using a 10cm round, plain pastry cutter (or ramekin), stamp or cut out 12 circles, re-rolling the trimmings, if necessary. Carefully mould into the deep pie tin you greased – don’t worry if the pastry bunches together slightly, simply smooth out with your fingers.
Take 12 hard-boiled eggs, chopped small, mix them in a bowl with the Lent Pie filling you made earlier, and divide the filling mixture between the pastry cases, filling each one three-quarters full.
Roll out the smaller piece of pastry for the mince pies as before and use a 7-8cm round, plain cutter to stamp out 12 lids. Brush the edges of the pastry bases with milk, lay a pastry lid on top and press the edges together to seal. Brush each mince pie with the beaten egg wash. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden and piping hot. Cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then carefully transfer to a wire rack.
Serve the Lent Pies warm or at room temperature.