A sweet spinach tart

Sweet spinach tart? It may be an unusual concept, but it is one that has weathered several centuries. In her Vegetable Book (1978), Jane Grigson writes that this dish still features among the treize desserts traditionally served in Provençal households on Christmas Eve.

Grigson’s recipe recreates Southern French flavours by including some candied orange and lemon peel. Francophones can google “tarte sucrée aux épinards” for further variations and additions, including pine nuts and raisins.

The eighteenth-century recipe below, from our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies, is flavoured with rosewater and laced with brandy:

An eighteenth-century recipe for sweet spinach tart, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

An eighteenth-century recipe for sweet spinach tart, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To Make a Spineage Tort. This is for second course.

Take 6 eggs, yolks & whites. Beat them well with a pint of sweet cream, a qr of a pd of crums of bread, a good handfull of spinage cut small, half a qr of currons, half a qr of almonds pounded wth a little rose water, half a nutmeg, half a pd of white sugar. Half a pound of drawn butter, 3 spoonfulls of brandy. Mix all well together. Lay paist thin at the bottom & sides of the dish & cross bar at top. 3 qrs of an hour bakes it.

A savoury soup (and other nineteenth-century rhubarb recipes)

Spring Fruit Pudding, Spring Fruit Tart and Spring Fruit Soup

Today’s recipes are all drawn from Dr William Kitchiner’s Cook’s Oracle, which was first published in 1817.

Our Cookbook contains transcriptions of several of Dr Kitchiner’s ‘spring fruit’ recipes, all of which use rhubarb as the main ingredient.

Some of the rhubarb recipes would not look out of place on a dining table today. Spring Fruit Tart sees the rhubarb sweetened with loaf sugar before being covered with pastry and baked in the oven. There are also Spring Fruit Pudding recipes, in which the rhubarb is flavoured with spices (cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg), reduced over heat with sugar, and combined with eggs and butter before being baked in pastry.

Recipe for a rhubarb tart from the Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Recipe for a rhubarb tart from the Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

However, the recipe that really caught our eye is one for a savoury soup:

Spring Fruit Soup

Peel and well wash four dozen sticks of rhubarb. Blanch it in water three or four minutes, drain it on a sieve and put it into a stewpan with two onions sliced, a carrot, an ounce of lean ham and a good bit of butter. Let it stew gently over a slow fire till tender. Then, put in two quarts of good consommé, to which add two or three ounces of bread crumbs. Boil about fifteen minutes, skim off all the fat, season with salt and Cayenne. Pass through a sieve and serve with fried bread.

The recipe has found its way into the modern cooking repertoire courtesy of Jane Grigson (Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book, 1982). Grigson takes the recipe not from Kitchiner, but from 1930s cookery writer Ruth Lowinsky, who had included the dish in her menu for a “dinner to impress your publisher and make him offer ridiculous sums for the privilege of printing your next book”!

It is fascinating to find that this recipe of 1823 has survived the best part of two centuries with no alterations to quantities, flavourings or method.