Wednesday, January 7, 2009

6 apricot pies

Being in possession of a number of jam quality apricots, my thought turned instantly to creating something which I could store for potluck events. I chose to make pies that I could freeze.

I searched medieval cookery website's fantastic cookbook search for medieval recipies, but there were no mentions for apricot, so I searched for firstly fruit, then other stone fruits. Here's my results:

To make all maner of fruit Tartes - The Good Housewife's Jewell, England, 1596
To make a Tarte of Damsons - The Good Housewife's Jewell, England, 1596
A tart with plums - Das Kuchbuch der Sabina Welserin, Germany, 16th century
Another tart with fresh plums - Das Kuchbuch der Sabina Welserin, Germany, 16th century
Tartes of Damsons with a cover. - A Book of Cookrye, England, 1591
Tarts of Damsons without a cover. - A Book of Cookrye, England, 1591
Eine kluge spise von pflumen (A clever food of plums) - Ein Buch von guter spise, Germany, ca. 1345

I tried out ideas from several of the tarts, but only one of these tarts is as close to a single recipie as I could make it.

Tart 1: Sabrina's fresh plum tart (but with apricots)

A tart with plums, which can be dried or fresh. Let them cook beforehand in wine and strain them and take eggs, cinnamon and sugar. Bake the dough for the tart. That is made like so: take two eggs and beat them. Afterwards stir flour therein until it becomes a thick dough. Pour it on the table and work it well, until it is ready. After that take somewhat more than half the dough and roll it into a flat cake as wide as you would have your tart. Afterwards pour the plums on it and roll out after that the other crust and cut it up, however you would like it, and put it on top over the tart and press it together well and let it bake. So one makes the dough for a tart.

Another tart with fresh plums. Take the stones cleanly out and cut them open in the middle and make the tart and sprinkle sugar and cinnamon on the bottom crust and after that lay the plums as closely together as possible and put sugar and cinnamon on them again. Put also some butter thereon. Make after that the tart dough in the manner which is recorded in number [seventy].

Das Kuchbuch der Sabina Welserin
(Germany, 1553 - V. Armstrong, trans.)
The original source can be found at David Friedman's website

I wanted to use some jam apricots, but the closest recipes I could find were for other stone fruits, namely plums. This pie recipe astonished me because it actually contained a recipe for pastry. Of course I had to try this. I halved the quantities for my smaller pie tins. I had fresh fruit so I opted to use recipe 71, but recipe 70 is included as it has the dough recipe used in recipe 71.

My redaction: [in brackets things I will do differently next time]

plain flour - approx 1 cup, plus extra for flouring surfaces
4 small apricots
cinnamon – approx 3 teaspoons
sugar – approx 1/8th cup

Beat 1 egg. In a large bowl, gradually add [sifted] flour to the egg and stir with a wooden spoon. The mixture will be very stiff. Add flour until it does not look liquid, and begins to form clumps (look like a dough). Then mix with [well floured] hands, and add more flour until the mixture no longer tries to stick to the hands. Knead (adding flour as required) until smooth. Roll out ½ to 2/3 of the pastry on a [very well] floured bench with a floured rolling pin, turning the pastry often to ensure it has not stuck. Line your tart case with pastry.

Sprinkle sugar and cinnamon on the base of the tart case.

Halve apricots and remove stones, and place halves tightly together on the base of the tart. Sprinkle more sugar and cinnamon and some small knobs of butter on top of the apricot halves.

Roll out the remaining pastry to make a lid for the tart. Press the edges of the pastry base and pastry lid together so they join well. Poke a few holes in the lid of the tart to allow steam out.

Deviations from recipie:
I used apricots because I had apricots and couldn’t find any recipes for apricots. Other recipes of this era show that such substitutions were expected.

I didn’t sift in the flour, and I think this was responsible for the cosmetically displeasing small lumps in my pastry. The recipe uses the word dough throughout, but I’ve used the word pastry more in line with modern usage – I expect renaissance usage was not as rigid. I found this dough/pastry fairly pliable, and could be rolled out much thinner than any other pastries I’ve tried. It was not elastic like flour and water dough, not even the minimal elasticity of shortcrust dough. The pastry was noticeably yellower than other pasties. This took longer to bake than other pastry types, but browned more when cooked. From memory the pastry was innocuous, even pleasant, nothing unusual about it, except thinness - didn't distract from taste of fruit. Thinness did not lead to undue cracking. I need to use this again.

The words in the recipe saying to press the pastry together well, implies to be that the pastry base is not prebaked. For contrast, compare with To make a Tarte of Damsons from the good housewives jewel “put set it not into the Oven after, but let your paste be baked before.”

The first recipe cooks the plums, but it allows use of dried plums, which would require rehydration by cooking in liquid (and wine would taste better than water). The second recipe specifies that it uses fresh plums, so I do believe my interpretation that they are not pre-cooked is correct. The tarte of damsons with a cover appears to also cook the tart without precooking the fruit, supporting this assumption.

Appendix – other recipes mentioned

To make a Tarte of Damsons. Take Damsons and seeth them in Wine, and straine them with a little Creame, then yoyle your stuffe over the fire till it be thicke, put thereto, suger, synamon and ginger, put set it not into the Oven after, but let your paste be baked.

The Good Housewife's Jewell
England, 1596)

Tartes of Damsons with a cover.
Lay in your Damson whole, and so season them with sugar, Sinamon & Ginger, and so lay on a cover.

A Book of Cookrye(England, 1591)

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