So far on this blog, I have focused mainly on my passion for writing fiction. This has naturally led to me discussing one of my other big interests – Star Wars – as something which motivates and drives my writing. Another equally distracting topic when I’m trying to work is cooking. I could spend days reading about food and cuisine and cooking techniques. Cooking itself forms a bridge in my life between the day of work and anything else in the day, whether that is writing, reading (about cooking, Star Wars, or *occasionally* something else…) or just unwinding completely. The thought of writing about food is something that has interested me for a long time now. I’ve dabbled in it briefly before. But now I hope to make that much more regular with some posts about the history of royal food in the UK.
A MOOC About The History of Royal Food
I started a MOOC on Futurelearn, appropriately titled ‘A History of Royal Food and Feasting’, which is particularly interesting to me as I am fascinated by how cuisine and eating habits have changed over time, and I love old, traditional recipes. Actually, I am a bit obsessed with finding authentic recipes for dishes, whether these are authentic in the sense that they use appropriate local ingredients for a foreign dish, or that they represent something of the culture from which they originated.
Seeing this MOOC, I became interested in the possibility of finding some new recipes to experiment with, but also because I find things like this, where you are given a glimpse through a window into another world, or time, or place, are particularly inspiring for fiction writing. A history of royal food seemed particularly alluring. So two birds, one stone. Oh, and I could make some food, take photos, and do some food writing. A convenient mix of reasons to go for it.
Now, I’m running a little behind on the course. Work has been a bit busy, and there’s been a lot going on in the UK at the moment. So as Week 2 of the MOOC draws to an end this weekend, I’m just writing this post about the recipes I made for Week 1. I will try to catch up.
Tarte owt of Lente
Week 1 of a History of Royal Food and Feasting covered the food of Henry VIII, a monarch I remember learning about in primary school and recall for having a rather large appetite for food! The main recipe of the week was for ‘Tarte owt of Lente’, a cheese tart containing things that can’t be eaten during Lent: cheese, cream and eggs. And pastry, of course. A very nice combination of ingredients!
The recipe begins with pounding cheese (I used Cheshire) in a mortar (yay – I love any excuse to use my mortar and pestle!) until you get a strange, cheesy paste, to which you add cream and an egg, along with a hefty amount of seasoning. As there isn’t really much else going on in terms of flavour, I was rather generous with the amount of black pepper.
I then made a small quantity of simple shortcrust pastry, and took on the daring challenge of making a hand-raised case for the tart. It seemed to be going OK, and with the filling in, it was holding its shape pretty well. I even had the correct amount left over to make the lid, which also appeared to go smoothly. Then I baked it.
In what must have been a cheesy volcano erupting inside of my oven, my pastry ruptured on one side. The join between lid and case was not as secure as I had thought. Filling bubbled out of the case like lava and made a horrible mess in the oven. Disaster. Otherwise, though, it looked how I was expecting: a golden tart, rustically handmade and delivering a tempting smell of cheese and pastry.
It suffered from losing a fair amount of filling from its volcanic eruption. Where there was still a decent amount, the tart seemed a bit like a quiche with a lid. The filling ingredients are very similar, so this isn’t surprising. But it lacked the ‘interesting’ bit of quiche – whether that is bacon, onion or something like smoked salmon. Even with what I had thought was a liberal amount of black pepper, it all just tasted a bit bland, and definitely lost out to the pastry (this isn’t entirely a bad thing. Pastry is one of those things I could eat forever).
Did I feel after my adventure into the history of royal food that I was eating a royal feast? Well… no. It was an interesting experiment, but not one I would return to. I would rather just make a quiche, and would savour the salty hit of the bacon as something to flavour the whole thing. Positives… I got to use my mortar and pestle, and will learn from my mistakes regarding sealing the pastry. It was all quite quick and easy to do, too.
‘Ryschewys Close and Fryez’
The second recipe I tried from Week 1 was ‘Ryschewys Close and Fryez’, a pasta filled parcel containing a spiced fruit paste that is then fried until crispy and dusted in sugar. This sounded good to me.
After pounding dried figs, currants and dates in a mortar and pestle (again, yay), I then looked at the recipe, slightly concerned. Now was the time to add spices to the fruit.
Cinnamon, fine, no problem there.
Mace, again, not really any problem there.
Hmm. I was doubtful. I added it, in a smaller quantity than suggested, and put it to the back of my mind.
Then it was on to making the ‘pasta’, although this was really just pastry. Flour, sugar and saffron dissolved in water. The quantities in the recipe seemed off – half a cup of water to 100g of flour. This made a rather sloppy flour paste, more like a batter than a dough. I kept adding flour until it came together in a smooth dough – it needed a lot more than the recipe had suggested.
Once this had been divided and shaped into circles, a spoonful of the fruit mix went into each, they were sealed, and then shallow fried in hot oil. All seemed fine at this point. They actually fried pretty well.
When they were golden and crispy, it was time to dust them with sugar and they were ready. By this point, I was looking forward to my dessert.
The first few bites were ok. It was a little odd, sort of a like a mince pie. The taste was… different. After a few more bites, the black pepper just seemed to dominate everything. It was like it was there, building up in my mouth after every bite, until all I could really taste was a peppery mix of fruity stuff. It was not good at all. I struggled to finish it, and still I have one remaining that I have not been able to bring myself to eat.
So lesson learned. Black pepper in a sweet, fruit pie, does not work. I’ve heard it is apparently good on strawberries. I won’t be rushing to try that one for myself.
The next week of the course covers Elizabethan England, and I hope to have a new post up soon as I look to catch up. I will be avoiding anything that suggests black pepper in a sweet dish.