Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Apple Pie

A traveling baker, specializing in pies and pretzels
Someone suggested to me recently that I should offer a recipe from the Middle Ages. I was thinking about Tartletes (meat tarts) that I have made and enjoyed, but the crisp autumn weather practically begs for the following.

A few months ago I talked about a manuscript that survives from the kitchen of Richard II. This cookbook, The Forme of Cury (The Forms of Cooking), has dozens of recipes that have been translated and tweaked by modern scholars and cooks to turn them into dishes acceptable to the modern palate. Tweaking is necessary, since precise measurements are rarely included. For instance, here is the recipe for an apple pie:
XXVII For to make Tartys in Applis.
Tak gode Applys and gode Spycis and Figys and reysons and Perys and wan they are wel ybrayed colourd with Safron wel and do yt in a cofyn and yt forth to bake wel.

27. To make Apple Tarts
Take good Apples and good Spices and Figs and raisins and Pears and when they are well cut up (and) well-colored with saffron, put them into a coffin and set it forth to bake well.
Only a few years before Richard's cookbook was made, the "apple coffin" was first recorded. We would call it a pie with a top crust, but in this case the "coffin" was made of dough that was probably not very tasty. If we can rely at all on the proportions shown in woodcuts and illustrations, it was taller relative to its base than modern pies. Basically, it was a delivery method for the delicious filling, and the coffin itself would not be eaten. Now we are accustomed to eating the whole dish, so crust-making methods have developed differently over the ages.

Here is how one modern cooking expert has interpreted this recipe:*
8 large Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored and sliced
4 Bartlet pears peeled, cored and sliced
½ cup of raisins
½ cup of figs, sliced
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ginger
¼ tsp cloves   
a pinch of saffron
This would make a very different flavor than the typical "American" apple pie. For one thing, Golden Delicious apples, not generally used for baking, are chosen because of their similarity to an old variety that would have been available to medieval cooks. If you recall this recent post on sugar, you'll remember that it was difficult to come by and not an easy inclusion in a recipe. Also, "sweets" had been made and served for centuries without the addition of sugar, relying on the addition of honey or simply the natural sweetness in the fruit. If you are interested in trying this recipe, I suggest falling back on a modern recipe for the crust that suits you.

The next time you hear the phrase "As American as apple pie," think about its long pre-American history.

*I highly recommend the website http://www.godecookery.com, as both scholarly detailed and culinarily satisfying!

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