Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Historical Food Fortnightly '16 3:History Detective

3. History Detective (January 29 - February 11) For this challenge, you get to be the detective! Either use clues from multiple recipes to make a composite recipe, or choose a very vague recipe and investigate how it was made. 

This challenge couldn't be easier for me. Most medieval and Renaissance recipes don't have things like measurements or how hot the dish needs to be or how long it needs to cook for - they assume you know all of this. For instance, the one I used:

Tart for Lenton. Take figges and raisinges, and wassh hom in wyne, and grinde hom, and appuls and peres clene pared, and the corke tane out (the cores taken out); then take fresh samon, or codlynge, or hadok, and grinde hit, and medel hit al togedur, and do hit in a coffyn, and do therto pouder of ginger, and of canelle, ande clowes, and maces; and plaunte hit above (ornament it on the top) with pynes, or almondes, and prunes, and dates quartert, then cover thi coffyn, and bake hit, and serve hit forthe.

The above is from Ancient Cookery [Arundel 334](England, 1425). My translation:

A tart for Lent. Take figs and raisins, wash them in wine, and then grind them. Also get apples and pears that have been peeled and corked. Then take fresh salmon, or cod, or haddock, and grind it small. Mix all these things together and put them in a pie crust. Add powdered ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and mace. On top of this, put pine nuts or almonds, prunes, and quarted dates. Cover the pie crust, bake it, and serve forth.

So the questions begin. Do I make the figs and raisins into a mush? Does the wine just wash the fruit or should I soak them in it? How the heck do I make a pie crust without butter? How long do I cook this for? Do I cook the salmon first and then add or should I keep it raw and cook it with everything else?

Well, some of the questions can be answered through a ton of other medieval cookbooks. This late 14th century one has a recipe for "Tarte of Fysshe" that mentions the salmon should be boiled in almond milk before being put into a pie. Okay, I can do that! This page shows me how long to cook the salmon and using this page I figured out a pie crust. I also used modern renditions of a pie crust to figure out the amounts. Basically, you always have to snoop around other cookbooks to figure out what the heck the original chef meant.

Pie Crust:

then make a dough of sugar, flour, oil, water and salt, mix them together to make the dough, spread it over the bottom of a low pan, and put the mixture in so that it is no more than a finger deep; cook it in the oven or on the fire as is directed for the other tortes; when almost cooked, get wafers, crumble them over the Tart - those wafers should be made with good sugar; when cooked, garnish with sugar and rosewater. (Italy, 15th C)

Sugar, flour, oil, water, and salt - all very normal ingredients for a pie crust. Using modern sites like this one I figured out how much I'd need of each. Rather than vegan butter, I'd use olive oil as the fat.

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar (1 of white and 1 of brown)
  • 3/4 cup of oil (I probably should have used only a half cup)
  • 1 teaspoon of sea salt
  • 1/2 cup ice cold water

I mixed the flour, sugar, oil, and salt until it made sort of a clumpy mess. I added the water until it had a more dough like consistency. I then rolled it out on a floured board (I used a lot of flour. I think it was another half cup while rolling it out). I split the dough into 1/3 and 2/3. The 2/3 became the actual "coffin" and the 1/3 became the cover. Once the pan was covered with the coffin part, I put the pan and the cover in the fridge and went to Mass.

Although they couldn't have used a fridge in the middle ages, they would have used a root cellar and probably just used the dough the next morning rather than a couple of hours later.

At 350F in my very modern oven, I cooked the coffin part for about ten minutes once I came home.


For the salmon, I cooked it in store bought almond milk at 420F in the oven for 20 minutes. It cooked up beautifully. While I was waiting for it to cook, I peeled the pears and chopped them up, let the raisins and figs sit in the wine I've had in my fridge forever, and I also got out the apples I picked back in September to add them to the pie.

  • 1 cup raisins
  • 12 figs
  • 2 pears
  • 2 apples

I cut up the figs, the pears, and the apples were already cut up. I mixed in the salmon when it was done with this mess - draining the wine beforehand. Once it was mixed, I put this in the coffin. On top of that, I added the ginger, cinnamon, mace, and cloves - all ground. I spinkled it on so I have no idea what I used and of what but I know I used a good bit of ginger and the cinnamon and only put a bit of the mace and cloves on. All the spices were pre-ground in to a powder.

On top of that, I added 7 dates and sprinkled some almonds on. I didn't have prunes but I doubt they are vital to this dish. The cover went on over that. I cooked the pie at 350F for 40 minutes. I tried for 30 but the cover didn't look "cooked" so I added another 10 minutes to the total time.


It just won't cook.  The pears and the apples were only slightly mushy.   The crust wasn't completely baked either - it also could have used a bit more sugar, probably.   However, the consistency of the crust was perfect so I'll just have to work on the baking time part of it.  The salmon tasted fine - it was cooked thanks to the almond milk- but nothing else really seemed to have cooked correctly.   If I try this again, I'll probably put it in at a higher temp and for longer.  

The taste wasn't bad - it's mostly fruit and nuts with ginger and cinnamon.  It really was just a need to bake longer, I think.

Before adding the cover

After I took it out of the oven

De constructed pie!  I'm terrible at taking pies out without destroying them.


  1. Reading the recipe, I got the impression that you were supposed to keep the wine -- which would probably stew the fruits a little more. And maybe if the cover went across it would keep more moisture in? I had previously understood that the coffin pies were sealed and then had the tops sliced off and served out of the bottom crust.

    But hats off to trying a fruit + fish pie! That is sheer bravery! (And kudos for excellent coffin baking -- they intimidate me.)

    -- Tegan

    1. Originally, the cover did go all the way across the pie. :-) When I took it out of the oven, I almost dropped it and, since it's a tin foil pan I got at the store, the pan warped. The cover ripped away from the edges and I managed to just barely pick the pie up before everything fell on to the oven door. I need to learn that the cheap throw away pans are cheap throw away pans and not meant to be handled with one hand.

      I see where the wine could have stayed - I might actually try boiling everything together in the wine before stuffing it all into a pie crust.

      For now, I'm going to try a higher temperature in the oven when I re-heat it for lunch. Maybe if I cook the entire thing at 400F for another ten minutes, the fruit will cook.

      The funny thing is, you can smell the wine still. The raisins soaked up a lot of the wine I had them in.

    2. Oh I have done that with those pans. Oof.

      If you try it again, let us know -- cause it's still terrifying/exciting to make a fish/fruit pie!

      -- Tegan

  2. I'd probably seethe everything but the salmon in the wine (white? red?) for a while first.
    Also, I always want to get rid of the pan or mold and present these sorts of pies as I make pretty tough crusts.