Ladies Who Lunch

Mince Pies anyone?

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Photos Su Leavesley

VERY few households will be able to resist the lure of a box of supermarket mince pies over the coming weeks, so the Ladies Who Lunch team stayed at home and tested ten boxes and packets of mince pies that are easily available to people in most areas.

Our brief was simple; sample a piece of mince pie and mark it out of 5 for; taste; appearance; amount of fill, and general ‘integrity’ which encompassed all other aspects including whether they came out of the box in bits to how uniform they were, and whether they had leaked any filling, or had excessive amounts of twig and pips in. Also the calories, (but you don’t want to know about that! Except that the Co-op was highest at 263 per pie!). and number of ingredients was noted. Three sets of pies came in plastic cartons (from instore bakeries) and two of them were without information. Despite searching on the web I was unable to find facts about Sainsbury’s Instore Bakery version. Despite Tesco’s coming in a plastic wrapper they did have a full set of information.

The price and other details were noted on a chart; price, weight and calories per pie, (sorry!) together with whether they were suitable for vegetarians (most were).
It was a blind tasting; with the rest of the team out of the room I stuck an identifier on the underside of the plates, and swapped them around in ‘find the lady’ sort of way until even I couldn’t remember which was which.

Three sets came in transparent plastic packs, two had no data with them; Tesco’s did. Morrison’s data is available online, but I could find no information for Sainsbury’s Instore Bakery ones.
Seven came in cardboard cartons, and two of those were rather posher than the others – but you don’t eat the box. All came in individual aluminium tart cases. The Co-Op had something in Braille on the carton which might be useful for the blind – depending on what it says.
O.K., one phone call later I can report that it says “six deep-filled mince pies”: so congratulations to the co-op for being considerate.

There were marked differences in appearance of the pies; some had intricate snowflake or holly leaf motifs on top, others had a scant scattering of sugar. One or two were very deep, and one was noticeably flat; one had a veritable blizzard of icing sugar on top. We did not sample any that were iced on top, this being deemed unpardonable.

At first I was shocked to see such long lists of ingredients, but soon realised that the mincemeat filling alone accounted for most of them: lemon peel, orange peel, lime peel, sugar, dextrose, fructose, glucose, (other sugars) cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, salt, lemon zest, treacle, brown sugar, sultanas, currants, apple, almonds, apricot puree, walnuts, cherries, to name most of them added up to more than 20, but at least these constitute ‘real food’ items. Only extra unusual ingredients (Brandy or cognac) were recorded. The amount of chemistry-set ingredients was also noted. Morrison’s only had the one, Emulsifier (Mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids); the rest had anything up to 10 (Lidl); the remainder about 4 to 7. Most of the flour used for the pastry contained vitamins and iron, as is usual nowadays.

For those of you who are trying to reduce your salt intake, or don’t notice the difference, I can say (from my own notes) that the Co-op, Sainsbury’s Bakery and Tesco Value, seemed to have the least – if not none at all - in the pastry: to my personal taste nothing spoils good bakery products as effectively as lack of salt; Elizabeth David would declare them ‘insipid’ and I agree: but you may not.

One of the team made the observation that they would all be improved by being heated; some comments suggested that they could have been cooked properly in the first place: ‘claggy’ ‘sludgy’ ‘under-cooked’ were noted for Mr Kipling who didn’t score too highly at all. Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference (the most expensive) prompted ‘filling cloying’. ‘tasteless, claggy stodge’, ‘pastry cloying; too pale’, ‘something nasty, cloves?’, ‘ strange taste, almost soapy’, and another ‘strange taste’: so we obviously did Taste the Difference there. Sainsbury’s Bakery elicited comments ‘bland’, ‘not nice!!’, ‘no salt! bit flat’, ‘looks unappealing, tastes the same’, and ‘a little flat in appearance, very shallow, uninteresting taste’. The eventual winner (wait for it...) on the other hand gained praise, ‘slightly alcoholic, nice!’, ‘plain but pleasantly fruity’, ‘moist filling, crisp pastry’, ‘deep fill, fruity filling’, ‘could be prettier; but juicy, sweet’.

The top score possible would have been 120 points: three pies were so close together at the top to render the differences insignificant (93, 92, 91); the next two were rated at 88 and 82, the next group all came in the mid 70’ s and poor old Tesco Value came in at 49 points. But scoff not: when the team members were asked ‘which pie would you buy if you knew 30 boy-scouts were coming to tea?’ everyone chose Tesco Value – they being the cheapest and having no artificial colours, flavour or hydrogenous fats, and at only 162 calories (do boy-scouts worry about that?) were definite favourites. Then asked if they were entertaining ‘a dozen dear friends for mince pie and sherry’, the choice was unanimously one of the top three – Lidl. And in answer to the last situation of all; ‘yourself alone on the sofa watching an old film’ the answer (again unanimous) was Morrison’s; this was the least decorated pie, and was marked down a bit on ‘appearance’ but the taste more than compensated.
A grand pie to be sure.

Sadly Waitrose mince pies were unavailable at the time of testing.

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