An Egg Tart

eggFrom Das Kuchbuch der Sabina Welserin, Germany, 16th century.

Lady Elinor Strangewayes, OM.

Entered in the Northern Lights A&S Competition, 2010.
Category: 26. Cooking.
Won the cooking category.

Photo by Alexandr MacLachloinn. Note - this photo was taken before I drained it and added a garnish, which made it look less like a stranded jellyfish.

Photo by Alexandr MacLachloinn.
Note – this photo was taken before I drained it and added a garnish, which made it look less like a stranded jellyfish.

 Ain ortorten.
So nempt 8 air, klopffts woll, nempt ain mas milch, lasß sieden jn ainer pfanen vnd thú die air darein vnnd riers vmb, bis dick wirt, vnnd lasß kalt werden, das/ das wasser woll darúonkom, nempt zúcker vnnd ain wenig púter daran, wan jr welt, múgt jr woll ain gestossen mandel aúch daranthon vnnd ain rossenwasser, vnnd lasts bachen.
1

 An egg tart.

Take eight eggs, beat them well and take one quart of milk. Let it seethe2 in a pan and put the eggs into it and stir it around until it becomes thick, and let it become cool, so that the water comes out. Put in it sugar and a little butter. If you would like, you can also put into it ground almonds and rose water. And let it bake.3

  My redaction:

  • 8 eggs
  • 1 quart milk
  • 2 T butter or margarine (I was out of butter at the time)
  • 4 T sugar
  • ¼ cup ground almonds
  • ½ tsp rose water

 Take and whisk 8 eggs. Heat 1 quart of milk until warm; add eggs and stir constantly until thick. (Egg whites will make for a lumpy consistency; this is normal.) Take off heat and allow to set. Add sugar, butter, almonds, and rosewater to taste. Place in baking dish and bake until done.

In making my version of this recipe, I tried to get as close to authentic ingredients as possible. I am fortunate to keep my own laying flock, so the major ingredient in this dish is fresh and unprocessed eggs from my own hens. My flock is a mix of Buff Orpingtons and Rhode Island Reds. While neither breed is period – the Buff Orpington was developed in England in 1894; the Rhode Island Red in New England some time prior to 1900 – the Orpingtons lay eggs similar in size to those available from period breeds.4 Eggs in period tended to be smaller than those produced by modern hens.5 One more accurate breed of chicken for future historical animal husbandry would be the Dorking, a variety dating back to Roman-era Britain.6 This variety may have originated in Italy and come to the British Isles along with the Roman legions.

I used whole milk purchased at the grocery store. In period, the milk would be neither pasteurized nor homogenized. Unfortunately, the local dairy farmer from whom I usually purchase raw milk was not home on the day I was planning to bake. My major inaccuracy as far as ingredients go is in my usage of margarine instead of butter. However, I discovered I was out of butter as I started preparing this dish, so margarine (an obviously non period option) was used instead. I used brown sugar for my sugar choice. In period, white sugar was a costly luxury item, sold in solid cone form. The lower grades were somewhat cheaper. Today’s brown sugar is not really an adequate substitute – modern brown sugar is simply white sugar with molasses added back in, but a German housewife of the late 16th century probably had access to at least semi-refined sugar.

One problem that I faced was the lack of an oven. I cook on a woodstove (no oven) and the dish was too large to fit inside any of my usual jury-rig stovetop ovens. I compromised by putting the egg mix into a bundt pan and steaming it for an hour. I do not know if this will work, as I am not taking it out of the pan until I serve it at Northern Lights. I do not know what the consistency of the period dish was supposed to be, but I suspect it’s going to come out as a soft custard and am planning to put it in a bowl. Next time, I would like to try baking it to see if that would remove enough water to make it firm.

 Postscript: The tart set up firmer than I’d expected, though still quite soft. It at least held its shape, so I put it in a deep plate. In footnote #2, I had theorized that perhaps this dish was similar in style to the contemporary English larded milk recipes, and yup, that’s exactly what it behaved like. I hadn’t have time to let the dish cool entirely before adding the remaining ingredients, and that was the fatal flaw. It set up in my mold like an oddly-textured custard and seemed just fine when I put it in the car to travel approximately one hour to the event site. By the time we got there, however, it had cooled down completely and was weeping like a hired mourner. I had to drain it periodically throughout the day. The tart gently sank onto the plate and filled the dish’s depression entirely. It kept the fluting of the Bundt pan, but nothing of the height.

When I arrived at the event, I found that my friend Kythe from Stonemarche was also exhibiting, so I set up next to him. The tart looked a little sad as it sat there oozing quietly on the plate, so I grabbed an apple from the dayboard and made a flower of apple slices in the center. This improved its appearance dramatically. Pleased with my quick thinking, I turned to Kythe and said, “There. Now it looks a little less like something washed up on the beach.” Kythe agreed, picked up a spoon, and sampled the dish while perusing my documentation. Reality hit me a little belatedly. “You’re a cooking judge today, aren’t you?” I asked. To his affirmative answer, I replied, “Yeah, I’m probably going to regret that description of my entry.”

The end result was a soft-textured, light dish tasting mostly like a slightly almond/rose custard. I’m pretty pleased with the recipe. So were the judges – this dish won the cooking category at Northern Lights 2010.

1 Original Middle High German recipe from Das Kochbuch der Sabina Welserin (c. 1553), available online from the Justus Liebig Universität Gießen. [http://www.uni-giessen.de/gloning/tx/sawe.htm] Accessed Dec. 1, 2010.

2 Sieden literally means to boil, but in this case I wonder if it is being used similar to its contemporary English equivalent, seethe, which can imply anything from a gentle simmer to a rolling boil. As boiled milk curdles, I would think that a more accurate translation is to simmer the milk as when making custard. However, since the following line says to “let the water [come out or evaporate],” this may imply a dish somewhat like the contemporary English larded milk recipes, which result in a sort of soft cheese made through cooking eggs and milk together and then straining the results.

3 Originally translated by V. Armstrong. Available online from David D. Friedman (Duke Cariadoc)’s website. [http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Medieval/Cookbooks/Sabrina_Welserin.html] Accessed Dec. 1, 2010. I modified the translation slightly to represent what I believe to be a more accurate meaning of a few words.

4 Dates from the Wikipedia articles for the respective breeds: “Rhode Island Reds,” [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhode_Island_Red] and “Orpington Chickens,” [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orpington_%28chicken%29]. Accessed Dec. 1 2010.

5 Theorized by Duke Cariadoc in his Miscellany and backed up by numerous historical redactionists on the Florilegium. [www.florilegium.org/files/FOOD/eggs-msg.html]

6 Janet Vorwald Dohner, “Dorking Chickens: Heritage Poultry Breeds.” From Mother Earth News, July 2010. Available online at [http://www.motherearthnews.com/Sustainable-Farming/Dorking-chickens-heritage-poultry.aspx] Accessed Dec. 3, 2010.

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