So which mince pie should you leave next to the chimney this year if you want to attract Santa’s attention?
Once again, the Independent on Saturday does the hard work for you, tasting the mince pie offerings of our major retailers and bringing you this year’s winner.
In a year of social distancing we did it differently. No more hovering around the boardroom table and all tucking in with expressions of “yum” or “yuk” being thrown around. This year each pie was numbered, boxed and sent to homes around Durban. The advantage was that we could not influence each other, and spouses, family and friends who live with us could share in the fun.
This year, Shoprite was not included in the retailers. After visiting three stores in Durban, none of which had mince pies, and none of which were sure when they were getting them, we decided to leave them out. Maybe next year.
Generally, the standard this year was far better than last. The pastry on most showed better baking and was not as doughy, and the filling had more flavour. So after thousands of chimney stops, Father Christmas is far less likely to have indigestion.
And the winner was… Woolworths, for the second year in a row, scoring a possible 18 and a half out of 25. The wooden spoon this year went to Food Lover’s Market.
The panel was made up of Independent on Saturday staffers Tanya Waterworth (TW), Duncan Guy (DG) and Frank Chemaly (FC), subeditor Nalane Walker (NW) and photographer Shelley Kjonstad (SK) who also took the photographs. All scores were out of five and each pie could score a possible 25.
TW: A generous sprinkling of sugar made this mince pie appealing. Pastry was slightly doughy, but lots of mincemeat, although could be too sweet for some. 3
SK: Good mince to pastry ratio, best-looking pie, the lovely browned edges evoking a tray of home-baked pies steaming out the oven. Scrumptious, flavourful mInce with a fragrant aftertaste. 4
NW: A dainty pie with a thin golden pastry and well-crimped frill. The crisp casing was firm but not buttery. It was the best balanced bite of pastry, spicy fruitiness and yummy citrus peel. I'll happily leave this well-baked moreish pie out for Father Christmas and serve it to guests. 4.
DG: Looks nice and symmetrical, with sugar, and has a nice pattern. The pastry holds its form and melts in the mouth, and the mince is very zesty. 4
FC: Definitely the looker of the pack, with its golden edges and sugar sprinkling, this had a decent if thickish pastry and a mince filling that at least had some distinctive flavour of all those lovely traditional Christmas spices. Enjoyable. 3½
Pick n Pay
TW: Thumbs up for this one. Slightly golden pastry with lots of filling and tasted good. 4
SK: A pity this pie is a little short of mince because it had a nice fruit/nut combination. The pastry is light and has some flavour. 3
NW: By far the plumpest pie with rustic charm. If you are soft on pastry, this pie has a thick one and a chewy heart that matters: the most fruity, spiced filling that is not overly sweet. 3½
DG: It looks well cooked but not very neat. The pastry tastes as if it’s not even cooked. The mince has the right sweetness. 3
FC: Had this been in an oven, I asked myself as this feeling of wet pastry hit the palate. The filling had a hint of date square about it but was generous at least, if you like date square that is. 1½
TW: Crumbled around the edges when I picked it up, although for those not wanting too much “sugary sweet”, this would be the one. 3
SK: A light, crumbly pastry which didn’t visually inspire, but a nice surprise as it didn’t disappoint, with a healthy mince portion. 3½
NW: This no-frills pie is in need of a summer tan. Its fruity filling was a little spicy but not too sweet, which makes it tempting. It's on the bland side and crumbly, but if offered, I'd merrily have another without feeling too bad about the calories. 2
DG: Three little decorative holes save it from being plain in appearance. The pastry tastes uncooked and there’s not sufficient mince filling. 2½
FC: This needed to be eaten over a plate. The pastry was so crumbly the lid disintegrated while removing it out of the foil cup. It did not so much melt in the mouth as mush in the mouth. It’s fruity centre was pleasantly spicy. 2½
TW: The top looked as though it was slapped on in a hurry and could have been a little more generous with the mincemeat 2
SK: The mince had a nice spicy flavour, with notes of clove, but a little lost in the heavy thick pastry, which lacked taste. 2
NW: Elegant, frilled and golden. This pie has the sweetest pastry. Its juicy filling had plump fruit and citrus peel but it lacks the distinctive festive spiciness. It's crisp pastry would hold up well in humid weather. 3
DG: It looks nice and home-made but at the same time slightly amateurish. The pastry is very crumbly and quite thin. The mince is too sweet. 3½
FC: A rustic cousin, with streaks of mince oozing out the pie seal, this was enjoyable although the pastry was a shade tough and thick. Any more cooking and you might have got shrapnel. The mince at its centre was pleasant, although sweet. 2½
Food Lover’s Market
TW: Pastry a bit on the pale side, but mincemeat with lots of flavour made up for it. 3
SK: Unappetising yellow appearance. Its pastry is stodgy and uncooked. The mince is plentiful, if a bit too sweet. All round not a great experience. 1
NW: Danger! This is a fully-loaded sugar bomb hidden in an anaemic-looking, doughy pastry that needs more oven time. Very sweet jammy filling. If you're not a spice fan and have a sweet tooth you may enjoy this. 1
DG: It looks quite plain, but the pastry is nice and moist and the mince is nice and spicy. 3½
FC: A look at this one and I thought it might induce indigestion, but while the pastry was too thick and slightly doughy, the filling made up for it. Although sweet, it did have some flavour. 3
The Independent on Saturday