You’ll find this recipe in:
UPenn Ms. Codex 785
England, between 1705 and 1726
To make fine pippen Tarts
Take a pound of flour and half a pound of butter a little sugar rul it in very small, wet it with Cold water, and two Eggs, make it into a Paste, roul it as thin as you can, and Couer your pattyes, then take henlish pippens and pare them and cut them in round slices, then lay a lay and two Spoonfulls of fine Sugar beaten and some Orange peel Chop’d Small and a lay of pippins and a lay of Sugar and lid them as thin as you can, and take care in breaking them, when they are bak’d, take them out of your pattyes and open the lids, and put into every one of them a spoonfull or two of Orange or Lemmon Juice strain’d then put down the lids & take a feather & some burnt butter lick over the lids, and sift some fine Sugar our them, you must not Couer your pippens, as you cut them put them into fair water
3 ¼ cups flour – 454 g
1 cup (½ lb) butter – 226 g
1 tbsp white sugar
¾ cups cold water – 175 mL
3 cups sliced apples – 400 g
Grated peel of one orange
White sugar (about ½ tsp per tart)
Orange or lemon juice (1 tsp per tart)
¼ cup butter – 55 g
White sugar to sift on top
1) Peel and slice your apples. The historic recipe suggests coring, peeling and slicing the apples into rounds, but apple rounds wouldn’t fit into my tart tins, so I cut the apples smaller. Put your apple pieces into cold water after you slice them.
2) Grate the peel of an orange. Juice your orange or lemon if you’re going for fresh juice and strain out the pulp.
3) Preheat your oven to 400 F (205 C). Measure out the flour and 1 tbsp white sugar for the pastry, then cut in your butter in small pieces. Pro tip: take your cold butter and grate it on a cheese grater before adding it to the flour! Doing this will make your pastry-making days happier. Mix the butter into the flour using a pastry cutter, or knives and forks.
4) Beat the eggs in a small bowl, then add to the flour, sugar and butter mixture. Add the cold water gradually while mixing. Stop adding water when the pastry dough has incorporated the flour, but is barely staying together. Some historic recipes suggest stopping adding water to pastry when the dough looks like a “ball of rags”, and I think this description applies even today. Does your pastry dough look like a t-shirt that you’re carrying around balled up in your hands? Then stop adding water.
5) Spread flour out thinly on your rolling surface and rolling pin, then roll out your pastry “as thin as you can”. For each tart, you’ll need to cut out one bottom tart piece and one tart cover. I don’t make pastry much at home in my regular life (but I make it often in the historic kitchen at work), so it took some trial and error to find the perfect round things to cut out these tart pieces. In the end, I found a whiskey glass and a little bowl that were the perfect sizes.
6. Put the bottom tart pieces in your tins. Pile in your apples, then sprinkle in about ½ tsp white sugar and a pinch of grated orange zest. I would pile in more apples than I did, because they cook down.
7. Add the tops to your tarts. You will need to detach the lids after the tarts are baked, so don’t attach the tops too firmly! I tapped around the outside with my fingers, then sliced in some air vents with a sharp knife. I had a bit of extra pastry dough, so I created some decorative pastry leaves on the top of some of the tarts (not mentioned in the historic recipe, but pretty).
8. Pop your tarts into your 400 F (205 C) oven. My tarts baked for roughly 25-30 minutes before they were golden on the top.
9. Once your tarts are baked and out of the oven, use a sharp knife to open the top of the tarts and add a teaspoon full of either lemon or orange juice. In a frying pan, simmer some butter until it becomes brown, brush it on the tops of the tarts and sprinkle the tarts with white sugar.
There is a backstory behind why I picked this recipe, besides the fact that every August I deal with a deluge of apples falling from the apple tree in my backyard.
I started this blog on March 31, 2018, and from that very first blog post I have been enthusiastically supported by Cooking in the Archives on twitter. You will find Cooking in the Archives (and Dr. Marissa Nicosia who is behind this food history blog) on both twitter and Instagram as @rare_cooking.
By enthusiastic support, I mean that @rare_cooking retweets every single food history blog recipe I’ve created since I started this blog. Considering that Cooking in the Archives has a much larger following than I do, I believe that Cooking in the Archives is one of the main drivers of new readers to my blog.
After this retweeting happened predictably for a while, the idea came to me: why not interpret a historic recipe that has already been interpreted by Dr. Nicosia?
I’ve mainly focused on recipes from published cookbooks on Cloud 9 Cookery, but Cooking in the Archives focuses on recipes found in handwritten manuscripts from the Early Modern Period, 1500-1800. I am quite comfortable working with recipes from the time period required by my museum life as a historic cook (early 1800s to 1860s), but part of the reason why I wanted to start this blog was to explore historic recipes from other time periods.
So in late July when the first apples started to fall from my tree, I did a search on Cooking in the Archives and found this delicious apple tart recipe. I sent Marissa a message to see if she was game, and she responded with an enthusiastic yes!
Before you read on, click on this link and look at what Dr. Nicosia did on the Cooking in the Archives blog when she made To make fine pippen Tarts in 2017.
In late July, I read the blog post and grabbed the manuscript scan and Dr. Nicosia’s transcription off her website. I waited a couple of weeks for the apples to really become prolific and made the tarts from the original instructions. Now that it’s done, I’ve gone back and looked at the Cooking in the Archives post.
Right off the bat, I will say that I certainly didn’t roll that pastry out “as thin as you can”. I thought that I did when I was making them, but I didn’t. The reason being, I made 12 tarts with a full pastry recipe, but 12 tarts were also made on Cooking in the Archives with a half pastry recipe! She also wrote that she had pastry dough leftover, and I only had enough extra pastry dough for a few decorative pastry leaves. Clearly I need to brush up on my pastry rolling skills.
I didn’t really enjoy my pastry, but Dr. Nicosia wrote that “The pastry was also delicious on its own. I’ll definitely be making it again when I come across recipes that simply request pastry, but don’t provide specifics. This one is delicious and as easy to make as my modern go-to.” I found my pastry to be tough, but perhaps it is more delightful if it is more delicate?
And lastly, I will say that I didn’t like the step at the end when you open up the top of the tart to spoon in some citrus juice. This step ruined the cohesiveness of the tarts and it meant that some of my tarts where split into 2 different pieces when they were being eaten. And that’s just strange. Why not just spoon the citrus juice into the tart shells at the same time as the apples, orange rind and sugar?
If you’re not familiar with Cooking in the Archives, go check out the website! If you enjoy my blog, you’ll enjoy what Dr. Nicosia is up to.