An anti-miserabilist approach to historical cooking

Tag: Tart (page 1 of 1)

Recipes from Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery

Like many others, baking is providing a lot of comfort for me and my family as the world has been upended around us. But, now that I’ve run the usual gamut of quarantine baking from banana bread to sourdough, I’ve been taking a deep-dive into some historical cookbooks.

This week, that means taking a closer look at recipes from one of my favourite historical cookbooks: Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery. Even though the book is now named after Martha Washington (1731-1802), Karen Hess’ masterful research shows that like many Early Modern recipe books, the manuscript was passed down through several generations with new recipes being added over time. The majority of the recipes were probably copied in the first half of the seventeenth century, and the source they were copied from must have been even older.

The recipes in the book reflect this span of time, during which English cooking was going through considerable changes. Some recipes, like the one for green pease porrage (green pea porridge or purée) hark back to the medieval period in their ingredients and techniques, while others such as a series of gingerbread recipes show an evolution over time (to find out more about gingerbread’s development from candy to biscuit see these posts).

The Recipes

To Make Green Pease, Porrage

Take of ye youngest pease you can get, what quantety you please, & put ym in a little more faire water than will cover them. Boyle ym till they be tender. yn take new milke & make them of what thickness you please. let ym boyle wel together, yn take a little flower and wet it with milke enough to thicken it, & put it in with some spearmint & marrigoulds shread small. when it is boyled enough, put in a good piece of fresh butter, a little salt, & some pepper, If you please, & soe dish [it] up.

Green Peas Porridge

Cook 1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen peas with 1/2 cup water until very soft. Mash the peas, add 1/2 cup milk and bring back to a simmer. Whisk 1/4 cup milk with 3/4 tbsp flour and add to the peas. Stir in finely chopped mint leaves and marigold petals. Add a knob of butter, season with salt and pepper and serve hot.

To Dress a Dish of [Mushrumps]

Take yr firm mushrumps & pill ye scin from them & scrape away all ye red yt grows on ye insyde of them, & pill yr stalks likewise. If you finde them firm, throw them as you doe them into faire water & let them ly 3 or 4 hours, then take them out of ye water & set them on ye fire in a pan. theyr own liquor will stew them. put in an ounion cut in halves and often shake them. As ye water rises, cast it still away till you finde them allmoste dry. Then take out the ounion & put in a little sweet cream yt is thick & shread in some time & parsley, & put in some grated nutmeg, & a little grose pepper, & a little salt, & soe let them boyle, shakeing them well together. & put in A piece of fresh butter, giveing them another shake, & soe dish them up. This is approved, but ye yolks of too Eggs with a [?] cold Creem and thick ym wth it.

To Dress a Dish of Mushrooms

Peel the outer skin off 8 portobello mushrooms, cook in a tiny bit of water in a pan with 1/2 an onion until soft and the pan is nearly dry. Remove the onion, add 1/2 cup of thick cream, some fresh parsley and thyme (or dried), freshly grated nutmeg, salt and pepper.

To Stew Wardens

Boyle them first in faire water, then pare & stew them between 2 dishes with cinnamon, suger, and rosewater; or wth ye same seasoning you may put them in a pie & bake them

Stewed Pears

Simmer 4 firm pears (wardens if you can get them) in water until soft. Remove from liquid keeping 1 1/2 cups liquid.  Combine the reserved liquid with 1/2 cup sugar, 1 cinnamon stick and 2 tbsp rosewater, bring to the boil. When the pears have cooled, use a sharp knife to peel them, then add them back to the liquid and boil for 5-10 minutes. Serve hot or cold.

Notes – this was still too sweet for my taste, I would reduce the amount of sugar next time

To Make Cheesecakes

Take 6 quarts of stroakings or new milke & whey it with runnet as for an ordinary cheese, yn put it in a streyner & hang it on a pin or else press it with 2 pound weight. yn break it very small with yr hands or run it thorough a sive, then put to it 7 or 8 eggs well beaten, 3 quarters of a pound of currans, halfe a pound of sugar, a nutmegg grated or some cloves & mace beaten, 2 or 3 spoonfuls of rosewater, a little salt. yn take a quart of cream, & when it boyl thicken it with grated bread & boyle it very well as thick as for a hasty pudding. then take if from ye fire & stir therein halfe a pound of fresh butter, then let it stand till it be allmoste cold, & yn mingle it with your curd very well; yn fill yr coffins of paste & when they are ready to set into ye oven scrape on them some sugar & sprinkle on some rosewater with a feather. If you love good store of currans in them, you may put in a whole pound, & a little sack If you please. & soe bake ym.

To Make Cheesecakes

Mix together 250g fresh cheese (ricotta would do, or you can make your own) with 2 eggs, 170g currants, 110g sugar, some grated cloves, nutmeg and mace, a pinch of salt and 1 tbsp rosewater. Bring 500ml cream to the boil, then stir in 3 handfuls of fresh breadcrumbs and cook until it thickens. Stir 115g butter into the cream and bread mixture and allow to cool before adding to the rest of the filling. Place in a pie case, or make individual small pies, and sprinkle with sugar and rosewater. Bake in a medium oven until the filling is just set.

To Make a Tart of Parsneps & Scyrrets

Seeth yr roots in water & wine, then pill them & beat them in a morter, with raw eggs & grated bread. bedew them often with rose water & wine, then streyne them & put suger to them & some juice of leamons, & put it into ye crust; & when yr tart is baked, cut it up & butter it hot, or you may put some putter into it, when you set it into ye oven, & eat it cold. ye Juice of leamon you may eyether put in or leave out at yr pleasure.

Parnsip Tart

Boil 3 parsnips in 1 cup water and 1/2 cup white wine until they are soft. Peel them and mash or blend them. Add 3 handfuls of breadcrumbs, 1 egg, 1 tbsp rosewater and 1 tbsp white wine, 3 tbsp sugar and the juice of half a lemon. Pour into a par-baked tart case, top with some small pieces of butter and bake in a medium oven.

Notes – skirrets are a white root vegetable, and hard to find now, but you could add them in if you had them. It’s possible to get seed to try growing your own if you have a garden. If you want, you can make a decorative top as well by cutting shapes out of a piece of puff pastry the size of your tart. This is baked separately and then laid on top of the tart.

A Plum Tart for Christmastide

 

img_5626It’s quite amazing, how regularly historical recipes will prove you wrong. So often I think that a recipe will just never work, and it’s so tempting to “fix” it by using modern techniques. Once again, however, this 17th century recipe for a Christmas plum tart shows what great results you can get by following the instructions as they are.

This recipe comes from Folger MS v.a.21, fol.146 and was posted on the Shakespeare’s World blog. If you aren’t aware of Shakespeare’s World, you should definitely check it out. It’s a crowd-sourced project which lets you help transcribe recipes and letters from the 16th and 17th centuries.  I think it’s a wonderful example of the digital humanities in action, and that they’ve had so much interest is really great news for future projects. My one beef is that the transcribed pages are not yet available to the public (although this is apparently in the works).

But back to the tart. Folger MS V.a.21 is an anonymous receipt book dated to about 1675, containing both medical and cooking recipes as was common in the 17th century.[1] Although the recipe is called ‘A receipte for damsons to bake at Christmastide or anie other plum’ it’s actually a recipe for preserving damsons or other types of plums, and then rough directions are appended for turning the preserves into a tart. The preserves would be lovely in any number of sweets. Don’t throw out the syrup either! It’s great for making mocktails with some soda water, or add some gin or vodka for a refreshing cocktail.

The Recipe

recipe

Plum Tart Recipe from Folger MS V.a.21, fol. 146. Licensed by Folger Shakespeare Library under CC BY-SA 4.0. 

Take 3 pound of damsons & a lof sugar a pint of water put that sugar & that water into a preserving skillett when it boyleth skimm it cleane Let it a cooling then slit the skin of the damsons put them into the Sirrop let them stand on the fire a stewing 2 howres together then take them vp & let them stand by till the next day then doe as before 2 howres till the last of [quarter of] an howre then let it boyle & when they are cold put them vp into gully pottes for that use this will keep till Christmastide masse when you use them to put them into the Tart made as thin as you can raise it because it must not be much baked put more Sugar into them when you bake them.[2]

I was quite surprised that the plums were put into the syrup whole and with their stones still in. It was tempting to remove the pits, but it’s actually much more efficient to just slit the skins and let them boil. After a while, the plums naturally break into halves and the pits can be cleanly lifted out. This method means that there is very little wastage of the fruit. If you were cooking with the smaller, more fiddly damsons then it would make even more sense.

low-quality

The instructions about how to make the tart are very brief, so I used the recipe for ‘Short and Crisp Crust for Tarts and Pyes’ from The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby which is a basic hot water pastry.

SHORT AND CRISP CRUST FOR TARTS AND PYES

To half a peck of fine flower, take a pound and half of Butter, in this manner. Put your Butter with at least three quarts of cold water (it imports not how much or how little the water is) into a little kettle to melt, and boil gently: as soon as it is melted, scum off the Butter with a ladle, pouring it by ladlefuls (one a little after another, as you knead it with the flower) to some of the flower (which you take not all at once, that you may the better discern, how much Liquor is needful) and work it very well into Paste. When all your butter is kneaded, with as much of the flower, as serves to make paste of a fitting consistence, take of the water that the Butter was melted in, so much as to make the rest of the flower into Paste of due consistence; then joyn it to the Paste made with Butter, and work them both very well together, of this make your covers and coffins thin. If you are to make more paste for more Tarts or Pyes, the water that hath already served, will serve again better then fresh.[3]

It wasn’t clear to me if the tart was supposed to be self-supporting, or if it would have been in a tin. With hot water pastry you could probably make it self-supporting, but because I wanted the pastry to be as thin as possible that was going to be difficult. Robert May often refers to pies or tarts being cooked in patty-pans or dishes in The Accomplisht Cook (1671), so it seemed reasonable to use a pie tin.

pippin-tart

Design for the lid of a dish of pippins from The Accomplisht Cook by Robert May (1671) [Public Domain].

I used the same pastry for the lid of the tart, and used a selection of small cutters to make a decorative top. For the style of decoration, I drew inspiration from Robert May’s ‘Dish of Pippins’.[4] If you want to see some truly beautiful tarts in this style, have a look at Ivan Day’s cut-laid tarts. He often does them in puff pastry and cooks them separately, which would make a lovely addition to this tart. However you want to do it, this tart makes a lovely addition to any Christmas table!

[1] Anonymous, “Pharmaceutical and Cookery Recipes.”

[2] Tobey, “A Christmas Damson Plum Tart Recipe.”

[3] Macdonell, The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened, 216.

[4] May, The Accomplisht Cook, Or, The Art and Mystery of Cookery., 243–244.

 unbaked-pie

The Redaction

Christmas Plum Tart

 

For the plums:

900g Plums

300g Sugar

315ml Water
For the Pastry:

70g butter

300ml cold water

290g plain flour

Eggwash or milk

To make the preserves

  1. Place the sugar and water into a large saucepan and heat bring to the boil.
  2. Use the tip of a sharp knife to slit the skin of each plum vertically around the circumference, following the dent in the plum. Place the plums in the syrup, reduce the heat and simmer for two hours. Allow the plums to cool, move them into a bowl with the syrup and place the bowl in the refrigerator overnight.
  3. The next day, return the plums to the saucepan and simmer for an hour and 45 minutes. Turn the heat up and boil for a final 15 minutes. Sterilise a jar and fill the warm jar with the hot plums.

 

To make the tart

  1. Preheat the oven to 170˚C. Place the butter and the water into a saucepan over medium heat, until the butter is melted.
  2. Place the flour into a bowl and spoon in the melted butter from the top of the saucepan. Add enough of the water from beneath the butter to make a pliable pastry.
  3. On a floured board, roll out the pastry while still warm. Lightly grease a 24cm tart tin, and line it with pastry. Roll out the excess again, and cut a circle for the lid. Decorate the lid as desired with a sharp knife or biscuit cutters.
  4. Fill the tart base with the preserved plums. Lay the lid on top and brush the pastry with eggwash or milk. Bake for 40 minutes or until lightly browned. Serve warm or cold.

baked-pie

The Round-Up

The Recipe: A reciept for damsons to bake at Christmastide or anie other type of plum from Folger MS.V.a 21 Pharmaceutical and Cookery Recipes (original images available on the Folger website, transcription available on the Shakespeare’s World blog)

The Date: c. 1675

How did you make it? See above.

Time to complete?: 4 hours boiling plums, plus an hour for the tart and overnight resting

How successful was it?:  The filling is very sweet, and I was glad that I didn’t add any extra sugar to the tart. I was worried that the filling was too liquid but it ended up being fine and was delicious, particularly when served warm.

How accurate?: I didn’t use damsons and I didn’t add any extra sugar, it was already very sweet. I didn’t keep the preserves for very long, and I would be interested to see how they would last given that they aren’t sterilised in a hot water bath, as most modern preserves are. I’m not sure how accurate the use of the pie tin is, but it certainly worked well. It might be more accurate to use a shortcrust or puff pastry lid, and certainly the decoration was only roughly inspired by the May’s cookbook.

References

Anonymous. “Pharmaceutical and Cookery Recipes.” Manuscript, c 1675. MS V.a.21. Folger Shakespeare Library.

Macdonell, Anne, ed. The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened. London: Philip Lee Warner, 1910.

May, Robert. The Accomplisht Cook, Or, The Art and Mystery of Cookery. London: printed by R.W. for Nath: Brooke, 1671.

Tobey, Elizabeth. “A Christmas Damson Plum Tart Recipe.” Shakespeare’s World, December 24, 2015. https://blog.shakespearesworld.org/2015/12/24/a-christmas-damson-plum-tart-recipe/.

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