Saturday, June 14, 2014

Historical Food Fortnightly #1: Literary Foods

Let's face it; if you ask anyone to name any 16th century or early 17th century author, it will be Shakespeare...despite the fact that technically, he's not an author; he's a playwright.  So I decided to stick to my 16th Century guns and just randomly look up mentions of food in Shakespeare.   I knew he had some but most of it was generic like "meat" and "bread" or very specific ingredients like "strawberries" or "garlic" - very little was to call out a specific baking creation. 

However, I did find the clown in A Winter's Tale (Act IV, Scene III) does mention something that can be baked:

Let me see; what am
I to buy for our sheep-shearing feast? Three pound
of sugar, five pound of currants, rice,--what will
this sister of mine do with rice? But my father
hath made her mistress of the feast, and she lays it
on. She hath made me four and twenty nose-gays for
the shearers, three-man-song-men all, and very good
ones; but they are most of them means and bases; but
one puritan amongst them, and he sings psalms to
horn-pipes. I must have saffron to colour the warden
pies; mace; dates?--none, that's out of my note;
nutmegs, seven; a race or two of ginger, but that I
may beg; four pound of prunes, and as many of
raisins o' the sun.

 Warden pies sounds good!   Wardens (aka, pears) are easy to find at any local super market and I actually have everything else I need in my kitchen (even way too much saffron!).  So let's find a good 16th C recipe for Wardens:

How to bake Wardens.

Core your wardens and pare them, and perboyle them and laye them in your paste, and put in every warden where you take out the Core a Clove or twain, put to them Sugar, Ginger, Sinamon, more sinamon then ginger, make your crust very fine and somewhat thick, and bake them leisurely.  A Booke of Cookery 1584/1591

That will do it!  I've been making pie crusts for a couple of years using a variation on what they did in the middle ages/Renaissance.  In 1545, A Propere New Book of Cookrye states this about making "coffins":

Make paste of fine floure, egges, butter and faire water, therof make Coffins - How to bake Sparrowes or other small birds.
 then take fine flowre, yolkes of Egs, and butter, a little quantitye of rosewater and sugar, then make little coffins-How to make Chuets

And in 1575, we have this recipe for an apple pie with crust:

To make pies of greene Apples.
Take your Apples and pare them
cleane, and core them as ye wil a quince
then make your coffin after this man-
ner, take a litle fayre water, and halfe
a fishe of butter, and a litle Saffron,
and set all this upon a chafindyshe, tyll
it bee hote, than temper your flower
with this sayd licour, and the white of
two egges, & also make your coffin and
season your Apples with Cinamon,
Ginger and Sugar inough. Then put
them into your coffin, and bake them.

So the main parts of a 16th century English pie crust are...the same as today.  :-)  Flour, eggs, butter, and water to form the paste.  Saffron to color it yellow.  Sugar to make the crust taste sweet.

Although I can use most  of the ingredients, I can't have butter - at all.  Luckily, I'm not the first person in history to have a dairy allergy and they did use olive oil all the time in place of butter in the 16th century.  Easy!  

Crust recipe:

  • 2 cups of  flour
  • 1 pinch of saffron
  • 1/2 cup of water or so - added more as the dough was too dry
  • 2 generous tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon sugar

Mix all the ingredients together and then kneed the dough for a couple of minutes. Split the dough in half so you'll have a top and bottom crust. Roll out the bottom crust and throw that into a pan to bake for 10 minutes at about 375F.

Warden Pie:

  • 5 pears
  • sugar
  • cinnamon
  • ginger
  • 5 whole cloves

I didn't measure this part. I peeled and cored each of the pears - boiling them for 10-ish minutes once they were cored. I then stuck a clove in each one, put in about a teaspoon of cinnamon, 1/2 a teaspoon of ginger, and enough sugar to almost fill each pear. I then dumped them in the pie crust. Once all five were in, I rolled out the top curst and draped that over the pears. I also poked each pear with a fork once the over was on (so the pie could breathe). I baked the pie for 45 min at 350F.

I'm going to take it to a party and see how it tastes.  It smells delicious. 

EDIT: It tasted great.  The filling in the pears ridiculously good.  I'll definitely have to make this again. The crust could use a bit of work.  I think it needs more sugar and less kneading.  However, it was perfectly edible.  Everyone that tried it seemed to like it. 


  1. If the crust was tough, that could be the result of using olive oil instead of a solid fat (butter), since they react differently with flour when baked. Next time, try using lard or (not-period-correct) chilled coconut oil, if you need a vegetarian option. I'll have to try this, since I have some pears from the tree at the museum where I work, ripening on my kitchen counter.

    1. The biggest problem with the crust is that it's a bit bland. I can't have dairy at all so I use the period correct "Lent" version. :-)

      Let me know if you do try it! It's really quite good and sweet.