01/12/2021Did the builders of Stonehenge feast on sweet treats at midwinter?
- English Heritage creates Neolithic Mince Pie recipe inspired by evidence of foraged fruit
- Neolithic mince pies on the menu at Stonehenge this December
Builders of Stonehenge enjoyed seasonal food containing foraged fruit and nuts, English Heritage has revealed today (1 December) as the charity announced it will be selling Neolithic-style mince pies at Stonehenge from this weekend. The charity has also shared its reimagined Neolithic Mince Pie recipe for people to cook themselves at home, while English Heritage Volunteers will be cooking up the Neolithic-inspired mince pies every Monday at the prehistoric site.
The origins of mince pies can be traced back as far as the medieval period, with recipes varying over the centuries from meat based savoury treats to the sweet, rich version we favour today. But evidence found as part of excavations at Durrington Walls – the settlement inhabited by the builders of Stonehenge in about 2,500 BC – shows that the ingredients that could have made an early version of a mince pie were being gathered and used several thousand years ago. We know that the builders of Stonehenge were eating pork, beef and dairy, but now archaeologists have also found evidence for the collecting and cooking of hazelnuts, sloes and crab apples, and other fruit. Remnants of charred plant remains have led researchers to suggest that recipes may have been followed to help preserve and make foods palatable.
Susan Greaney, English Heritage Senior Properties Historian, said: "We know that midwinter and feasting were really important to the builders of Stonehenge and thanks to the Stonehenge Riverside Project, we’re lucky to have evidence which tells us that they had access to nutritious fruit and nuts, and that they may even have made and cooked recipes. Adding meat fats to hazelnuts and fruit would have made a great energy bar, full of calories. Such foods might have been eaten for celebration as well as sustenance, with the sharing of food helping the community to bond, encouraging people to travel from far and wide to help build Stonehenge. We’ll never know for certain what recipes they favoured, but it’s fun to imagine travellers being greeted with a tray of mince pies!"
While there is no direct evidence for pastry, people at the time knew how to grow cereal crops and they could have made pastry from wheat, hazelnut or even acorn flour. Neolithic ‘mince pies’ could have been baked using a flat stone or ceramic pot heated in the embers of a fire, rather like a Welsh cake.
English Heritage volunteers will be baking Neolithic mince pies around the hearth in the Neolithic Houses at Stonehenge every Monday in December, and mince pies inspired by the period will be on the menu in the café from this weekend while they last! Regular mince pies alongside mulled wine, hot chocolate and other delicious seasonal treats will be available in our newly refurbished warm and welcoming Stonehenge café throughout December.
For more information about visiting Stonehenge throughout December visit: www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/stonehenge/ and find out about our family-friendly Christmas adventure quest
For more information about the history of Christmas visit: www.english-heritage.org.uk/christmas/the-history-of-christmas/