Medieval Tart Flight

Or little pies, really. . .

While cookbooks were certainly written during the Medieval period, they are few and far between compared to the amount produced during the early modern, or “Renaissance” period. And because those later Europeans had similar tastes, by reading their recipes we can learn a lot about the way people ate centuries before them as well.

And like we’ve said before, what people ate was pies. Or tarts. Similar really.

Think of just about any old world ingredient, and you can bet there’s a Medieval recipe for baking it into a pie. With such a wealth of options, it was almost impossible to choose just four, and I feel like I’m leaving some key representations of the period off the table… perhaps there will be a tart flight part 2 in the future…

Until then, I present a humble few. . .

An Apple and Gruyere Tart…

A Marzipan Torte…

An onion tart, or an early version of quiche as we know it today…

And a peach, cherry, and red wine pie

These mainly 16th Century recipes are not all sweet pies, or rather not only sweet. They blur the line between savory foods and desserts, and would be on the table at any time alongside any kinds of other courses.

To get started, we’ll need to make a big batch of pastry crust. . .

PASTRY CRUST
(makes about 10 3″ pies, or two 9″)
-3 cups all purpose flour
-1.5 cups (3 sticks) very cold butter
-1/4 cup sugar
-1 tbsp. salt
-scant cup of ice cold water

This is a more buttery crust than our Whole Chicken Pie from a few weeks ago, but the method is the same. Cut the butter into 1″ cubes and chill until very cold. Meanwhile, whisk together the dry ingredients, then mash the cold butter in by hand, fork, or pastry masher, until you have a crumbly mixture.

Chill again, then stir in the water, a little bit at a time, until a dough just barely comes together. Divide into 12 pieces, then chill yet again, at least one hour or overnight.

Roll out on a generously floured surface, and place directly into pie or tart tins.

While we wait, we can assemble our fillings.

APPLE AND CHEESE TART

Das Kochbuch der Sabina Welserin (c. 1553) 177 To make an apple tart. Take apples, peel them and grate them with a grater, afterwards fry them in fat. Then put in it as much grated cheese as apples, some ground cloves, a little ginger and cinnamon, two eggs. Stir it together well. Then prepare the dough as for a flat cake, put a small piece of fat into it so that it does not rise, and from above and below, weak heat. Let it bake slowly.

This is not your Grandma’s apple pie. It definitely feels more “tart” like, and a little savory.

Gruyere was a natural choice for the significant “as much grated cheese” as apples part of the recipe Not only is it savory and melts well, it’s been around since the 12th Century, since it was developed by Medieval peasants in the Alps. I’m also electing to use butter for my choice of fat.

To make, peel and grate the apples and fry on medium heat in a knob of butter until just barely tender, seasoning with ground cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. Let it cool off, then mix with an equal volume of grated cheese. Stir in the egg, and season with salt.

Scoop the mixture into a pie crust, sprinkle with a little sugar and more spice, then bake at 350F for 1 hr, until golden brown on top.


MARZIPAN TORTE

[The Neapolitan Recipe Collection, translation T. Scully. Torta de Marzepane:  Get almonds, soak them a night, skin them so they are quite white, grind them thoroughly and add to them the same amount of sugar; to make this Torte better, use a pound of the one – that is, of almonds – and a pound of fine sugar, either more or less depending on the amount you want to make, and add to them an ounce of rosewater; mix it all together; get good wafers, made with sugar and rosewater, first soaked in rosewater, lay them on the bottom of a baking dish and put the mixture over them, spreading it carefully with a spoon, and make it low, adding sugar and rosewater on top; then cook it slowly. That is what a Marzipan Torte is like.

Almonds and rosewater are about as Medieval as you can get. Close your eyes and eat a piece of this super sweet confection, and you’ll be transported back centuries to some lord’s table.

It’s also super simple and easy.

Let’s whip up a rustic marzipan to start.
-1/2 lb. almonds, soaked overnight (I skipped the peeling part)
-1 cup sugar
-2 tbsp. water

Grind up the almonds as finely as possible and stir in the sugar. Add the water and fold together until you have something like a dough.

Set it aside and assemble the tart.

Cover the bottom of a pie shell with any thin wafer cookie. Spread them in only one layer, but overlap as necessary to leave as little pie shell exposed as possible. Sprinkle the cookies with rose water so they absorb it and become slightly damp.

Now lay the Marzipan on top and smooth into an even layer. It should fill the pie shell. Sprinkle sugar on top so that most of the almond part is covered, then brush with more rose water until he sugar dissolves. This is almost like a rustic syrup on top.

Bake at 350F for 30 minutes, until nicely browned and glistening on top.

If you find rose water off putting, this isn’t the tart for you. But if you’re okay with it, this thing is delicious! I can totally see some little 15th Century toddler from a noble family going bonkers for this sugary treat.

ONION TART

Libro di cucina / Libro per cuoco, L. Smithson – Tart of scallions or of onions, etc. If you want to make a tart of these things, take that which you want and let it well boil. Take first the water out and then squeeze out the water and finally chop / mash them and take fine lard and beat well; take eggs and fresh cheese and saffron and beat all together and make the tart.

It’s in Middle Ages that we first see recipes for what we would recognize as quiche today, a tart of eggs, cheese, and vegetables. Add some pork and you’ve got Quiche Lorraine, a dish you can find both today, and 600 years ago.

I’m using both green and yellow onion, and sorry, but I’m going to ignore the instructions to boil them. Sauteing them in a little butter and seasoning them with salt and pepper is gonna be a lot better for us. Just for a minute or so until they start to wilt. Don’t overcook them! Cool them down and put them in the pie shell, along with some fresh cheese and saffron if you have it (I didn’t, so I used some turmeric for color instead). Pour enough whipped eggs to cover, but leave a little room to rise.

Bake at 350F for about 1 hour.

I could eat onion quiche for breakfast, lunch, and dinner,

PEACH AND CHERRY TART

 The Good Huswifes Jewell, 1596 To make all maner of fruit Tartes. You must boyle your fruite, whether it be apple, cherrie, peach, damson, peare, Mulberie, or codling, in faire water, and when they be boyled inough, put them into a bowle, and bruse them with a ladle, and when they be colde, straine them, and put in red wine or Claret wine, and so season it with suger, sinamon and ginger.

And of course, to finish I had to make something that sounded not so far away from modern pie, although cooked and sweetened in an antiquated way. I opted for peaches and dry cherries, but try with any of the fruit listed in the recipe.

The basic technique is to blanch the fruit in boiling water for two minutes or so, cooking lightly but not all the way through.

Then, we’re going to make a sweet syrup out of red wine, sugar, and spices, pouring it over our fruit, and sealing with a top crust. Bring equal parts wine and sugar to a boil with whole cinnamon and ginger in it, stirring often as it reduces for about 10-15 minutes, until thick enough to drizzle off a spoon.

Bake at 375F for 1 hour

And with that, our tart flight is complete. . . for now. There are other Medieval tarts I still want to try. Bone marrow and dates anyone?

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