A tarte of green pease

This is the recipe book that started it all: At a meeting of the Penn Paleography Group almost five years ago we transcribed a few recipes from MS Codex 1601. In the process of deciphering the handwriting of this recipe, and others from the volume, I became very curious about what on Earth “a tarte of green pease” would taste like. While peas, especially fresh spring peas, have a delightful sweetness, I was intrigued by the mix of sweet and savory ingredients in this tart.

The Recipe

green pease

To make a tarte of green pease

Take green peas & seeth them tender
then poure them out into a cullender, season
them with safron, salt & sweet butter
& sugar, then close him then bake itt
almost an houre, then draw itt forth
& ice itt, putt in a litle wergice; & shake
itt well, then scrape on sugar & serve itt.

This recipe is made from fairly common ingredients, but it includes no measurements. We approximated all our ingredients to make one small tart. The most surprising ingredient in the list is “wergice,” which we think is an alternative spelling for “verjuice,” a bitter liquid made from young grapes that was also called for in our Could Possett recipe. Like before, we used lemon juice instead to add an acidic sourness to the recipe.

Our Recipe

2 c. peas
1 sheet puff pastry (homemade or store-bought and defrosted)
juice of 1/2 a lemon
2 T unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 t sugar, plus some to sprinkle on the top
1/4 t salt
pinch saffron

Cook the peas. If you’re using fresh peas, remove them from their pods, blanch them in boiling water for about a minute, and refresh under cold water immediately. If you’re using frozen peas, cook them according to the instructions on the package. We used frozen peas and they worked well.

Season the peas with the lemon juice, butter, sugar, salt, and saffron. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

Roll out the puff pastry. We folded the pastry into a rustic galette. You can also line a tart pan and reserve strips or a second sheet to cover the peas.

Add the pea filling to the puff pastry and fold or cover. Sprinkle sugar on top of your tarte. (An egg or milk wash on the top would be a nice touch as well.)

Bake at 350 F for 30 min or until the pastry is golden brown. Slice and serve.

Results

Perhaps not surprisingly, the “tarte of green pease” was somewhere between a dessert and a main course. The peas were both sweet and vegetal, the seasonings bright and savory. While I confess that it was not my favorite dish we’ve prepared over the course of this project, the taste was certainly unique. The starchiness of the peas made me feel like the dish was lacking an essential element and I wanted  to include other ingredients in the pie itself or on the side.

Since there are no measurements in the original recipe, we think this is a great opportunity for experimentation. With a few alterations, we think this recipe could be transformed in either a sweet or savory direction. To make it into a true dessert we would add more sugar and serve this tart with a side of vanilla ice cream. To turn it into a savory side-dish we would cut out the sugar altogether and instead add caramelized onions or shallots to the mix. The savory version might accompany roast squash, spicy baked tofu, or a roast chicken.

 

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Lemonade

In August I moved to southern California from Philadelphia. Yes, dear readers, while Alyssa and I are still posting recipes we cooked together this summer, still scouring the manuscript archives at Penn in person and through digital surrogates, still scheming up delightful things to cook and share, we’re no longer working side-by-side in the kitchen. To cope with this change and steel myself for an October heatwave in the triple digits, I decided to start my weekend by making lemonade from a recipe in MS Codex 1038.

The Recipe

lemonade

To Make Lemonade.
Hamers-
ley

Boil One Quart of Spring Water, let it stand ’till it is
Milk Warm. Pare five clear Lemons very thin and put the
parings in the warm water. Let it stand all Night, the next
Morning strain off the peel thro’ a fine Lawn Sieve, Squeeze
the Juice of the five Lemons. Strain it and put it in the
Water, put in Eleven Ounces of double Refin’d Sugar, One
Spoonfull of Orange flower water. Mix these well together,
it will be fit for use.

This recipe is wonderfully lazy: Infuse the water with lemons overnight, sweeten and season it in the morning. Sip lemonade all day. Repeat.

I think that there are two valid ways to interpret this recipe’s instructions for preparing the lemons. Both interpretations depend on how one defines the verb “pare.” This recipe is from the eighteenth or early nineteenth century and according to The Oxford English Dictionary “pare” was used around this time to describe both slicing and peeling fruit. Here are two approximate paraphrases of the text above:

1) Slice five lemons very thinly and add the slices to the warm water. Strain mix in the morning. Squeeze any remaining juice from the lemon slices into the mix.

2) Peel five lemons and add the peel to the warm water. Set five peeled lemons aside. Strain mix in the morning. Squeeze the juice from five peeled lemons into the mix.

I decided to proceed with the first interpretation, but I’d be curious to hear from any readers who try the other method of preparation.

I was also curious about the recipe’s specification for “clear lemons.” Other historical recipes like the ones on this blog also require clear lemons. I turned to the Oxford English Dictionary again and found that “clear” was increasingly becoming a synonym for “unbruised” or “unblemished” around the time this recipe book was compiled. Following suit, I selected the best lemons I had on hand for this recipe.

In the past I’ve purchased useful and cheap ($2) orange blossom water from various Indian grocery stores to use in baking and cocktails. My choice to fix this recipe this weekend was partly inspired by finding a bottle of it in my local cheese shop. The Nielsen-Massey Orange Blossom Water is a bit stronger than other floral waters I’ve used in the past and it hold up to the acidity of the lemons in this recipe.

Our Recipe

5 lemons, sliced

1 quart water

11 ounces sugar (1 1/2 c) – or to taste

1 T orange blossom water

ice and/or sparkling water to serve

Day 1:

Boil a quart of water and set aside to cool. Slice five lemons as thin as possible. Let the water cool until it is warm to the touch, but no longer scalding. Add lemons, cover, and let sit overnight.

Day 2:

Strain the lemon mix and squeeze remaining juice from the lemons. Reserve a few slices to garnish your lemonade. Stir in the sugar. Add the orange blossom water.

When I first tasted the unsweetened, electric yellow lemon infusion it was delightfully tart. Normally I don’t like my drinks *too* sweet and I often adjust the amount of sugar in recipes accordingly, but the mixture was so strong I decided to use the full amount this time. The finished lemonade was syrupy and very, very sweet. To my taste, the citrus and floral notes were a bit overwhelmed by the sweetness. With a few ice cubes and a lemon garnish it was much more refreshing. After sipping half my glass, I added a generous pour of sparkling water and found my perfect version of this lemonade. In the future, I might halve the sugar instead.

Still, this lemonade greatly improved my steamy Saturday. If the heat wave holds on for much longer, I might try it again with variations adding like thyme, sage, rosemary, mint, or lemon balm from my garden to the initial infusion, or even swapping out the orange blossom water for rose water.