Recipes recreated: news from our readers

A big thank you to our reader Catherine, who has sent in these fantastic photographs of dishes she’s created from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies.

Catherine followed our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies recipe to create this tasty gooseberry pudding

Catherine followed our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies recipe to create this tasty gooseberry pudding

The first picture shows her take on the Cookbook‘s 18th century gooseberry pudding. Not only does it look extremely appetising, but it also tasted great too. As Catherine told us:

This produces an excellent tart, with the sharp taste of gooseberries enhanced by the other flavourings, none of which dominates.  I found it produced a sponge-like layer on top with a more fool-like layer underneath.  Only putting pastry round the sides of the dish is a neat trick to avoid a soggy bottom!

Catherine’s stunning recreation of an 18th century sweet spinach tart proved to be a very enjoyable dessert

Catherine’s stunning recreation of an 18th century sweet spinach tart proved to be a very enjoyable dessert

Catherine also took the brave step of serving up our sweet ‘Spinach Tort‘ as a dessert for one of her friends:

“I rather surprised a lunch guest by serving Spinach Tart for dessert.  She always says how much she likes spinach, but she’d never had it like this before.  I had a bowl of strawberries in the fridge, just in case, but she happily finished off the portion of tart.  She said it had a subtle flavour and she wouldn’t have realized there was spinach in it had it not been green!”

We love the look of this dish, and Catherine’s beautiful decorative pastry work really sets it off nicely!

If you, like Catherine, have been trying your hand at recipes from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies, do get in touch! You can leave comments here on the blog, or email your cooking experiences and photos to westminster@archives.gov.uk

We look forward to hearing from you…

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.

The bitter taste of tansy

“[Mince pies are] as essential to Christmas as pancake to Shrove Tuesday, tansy to Easter, furmity to Midlent Sunday or goose to Michaelmas day”

Lionel Thomas Berguer in The Connoisseur (1754)

The traditional Easter dish ‘tansy’ has largely been forgotten today, but for the Georgians it was as integral to the Easter festival as mince pies were to Christmas.

Members of the Tansy family, including common tansy (fig 11680) from J.C. Loudon's Encyclopaedia of Plants (1828)

Members of the Tansy family, including common tansy (fig 11680) from J.C. Loudon’s Encyclopaedia of Plants (1828)

The dish takes its name from the tansy flower, tanacetum vulgaris, the bitter flavour of which was a reminder of the bitter herbs (maror) eaten by Jews at Passover. In our recipe, tansy leaf extract is combined with spinach juice and then added to beaten egg yolks, sugar and naple biscuits. Cream, nutmeg, sack and rosewater are all and added to the mix before being put over the fire to cook.

To make a tansie Mrs Haynes way: an 18th century recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To make a tansie Mrs Haynes way: an 18th century recipe from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To Make a Tansy –  Mrs Hayne’s Way (modernised spelling)

Take 12 yolks of eggs and beat them very well. Put half a pound of naple biscuit, a quarter of a pound of white sugar, a pint of spinach and tansy juice, a quart of cream, a nutmeg […] into a gill [¼ pint] of sack, the same of rose water. So, beat it up, put it into a skillet and put it over the fire till it is thick. So put it in the pan and fry it.

The result: a sweet, green-coloured omelette with the bitter undertone of tansy.

As time went on, the term ‘tansy’ was applied to a whole range of egg-based dishes, whether they contained tansy juice or not. One such recipe is a fruit fritter known as ”apple tansies’. We’ll be trying that one out later in the year…