Welcome to the first installment in my "12 Days of Feasting: Medieval Meals for Your Holiday Table" special series! Given my theme, I'll bet you were expecting something along the lines of turkey legs and tankards of mead for Day 1, right? Instead I've chosen this delicate pastry, a sweet and spicy little fig pie that's been basted in honey.
I'm no bona fide expert in the cuisine of the Middle Ages, but I have learned through my research that there was a lot more being served than huge hunks of flesh and pitchers of frothy ale. Over the next 11 days, I'll feature authentic medieval recipes for fish, vegetables, desserts, salad, and of course, festive holiday drinks.
In some cases, I've had to make adjustments based on the availability of ingredients - if anyone has any cubeb peppers or grains of paradise, drop me a line! - and of course, I don't actually cook things in a cast iron pot over a roaring fire. That said, making and eating dishes that were enjoyed 500-600 years ago has evoked, for me, a very strong feeling of connection to the past. It's been fascinating to learn to think of seasoning in different ways, and to notice the similarities - and differences - between the medieval and modern palates.
The original recipe for this fig pie comes from the 14th century manuscript Forme of Cury, a collection of recipes from the court of Richard II. It can be found in the collection Curye on Inglysch: English Culinary Manuscripts of the Fourteenth Century. Recipes, however, meant something a tad different in the Middle Ages, and notably tended to omit certain useful information such as ingredient amounts.
Instructions for the fig pie include helpful hints such as "Take figus & gryne hem small," and "Close hem in foyles of dough & frye hem in oyle." So for this recipe - and for many upcoming dishes - I consulted the excellent and informative Web sites Gode Cookery and Celt Net for guidance in amounts and method.
Mini Fig Pies: Tourteletes en Fryture
makes 6-8 small pies
- 10 ripe figs
- 5 strands saffron
- 1 - 1/2 tsp powder fort (see below)
- pastry dough (see recipe below)
- 2-3 tbsp oil, for frying
- 2-3 tbsp honey
- 1 beaten egg
Dice the figs very small, add the powder fort and saffron and set aside. Roll out your pastry dough (recipe below) and cut out small discs - mine were roughly the size of a martini shaker. Place about 1 tbsp of filling in the middle of each disc. Brush some beaten egg along the inside outer edge, and cover each disc with another pastry circle; pinch the edges together with a fork.
Fry the tarts in the oil over medium high heat until light brown and crispy. Meanwhile, gently heat the honey in a saucepan and brush over the hot pies. I think these little cuties are great hot or cold, although Poppa Trix says they're much better hot.
For the Powder Fort:
Powder fort was a strong spicy/sweet mixture used in many recipes in the Middle Ages. Varying translations and versions exist, but many call for cubeb pepper, a pungent spice that resembles a peppercorn; grains of paradise, a West African spice popular during the time, and mace, the outer covering of nutmeg. Acceptable substitutions include black pepper, cardamom, and grated nutmeg.
Feel free to make less, just retain the correct proportions:
1 tbsp ground clove
1 tbsp ground nutmeg
1 tbsp ground cardamom
4 tbsp ground ginger (I used dried powdered ginger)
3 tbsp ground black pepper
For the pastry dough:
You aren't going to find coarse medieval flour anywhere! I adapted this recipe from Celt Net, and it turned out light and flaky:
3/4 cup unbleached white flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 stick unsalted butter, chopped and brought to room temperature
1/4 tsp salt
3-4 tsp water
Mix the dry ingredients together, and then incorporate the butter bit by bit. I did it by hand. Add just enough water for the dough to come together. It's ready to roll out immediately.
Enjoy your fig pies, and I'll see you tomorrow for Day 2 of 12 Days of Feasting!