Thursday, December 10, 2009

Day 1: Medieval Miniature Fig Pies, or Tourteletes en Fryture

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!


  1. My love for history is only second to my love for food and I'm excited to see your 12 days of medieval recipes, how fun! The mini fig pies look absolutely scrumptious!

  2. The spices in here sound wonderful, I love this pastry dough for the fig filling how beautiful this is :) awesome job Trix! now who should be opening that bakery? you my dear!!!! can't wait to see the rest of these awesome medieval treats!

  3. This installement idea is just awesome, Great idea. And I LOVE figs!

  4. I loooooooooove your logo! So cute! And I have a couple of Medieval cooking books and yes, they are really helpful regarding amounts... well. This recipe sounds very good, a really good start for the series!

  5. So creative! A great recipe and a fun history lesson-- love it :)

  6. This is such a cool and creative series! I love the idea of these cute little fig pies. Wishing you lots of luck with the Medieval Feast (not that you'll need it!) I'll be here drooling all over your pictures and posts (thankfully not literally!) Can't wait to see what's coming next! x

  7. I was looking forward to those medieval recipes! Beautiful, I love ancient cooking, many of European recipes come from old Roman or Etruscan era and that's so fascinating! Great research job!

  8. A good culinary journey along with a history lesson--you are so clever! I think those look perfect--and with saffron--one of my all time fave seasonings. Thanks!

  9. Great idea to do this series! And these sound delicious - I'm up for fig anything!

  10. what a great idea, these look so good! i want some grains of paradise too!

  11. Those spices sound amazing. I have a recipe for a kind of homemade fig newton on my to-do list. Your fig pies look even more interesting and tasty.

  12. I LOVE this theme/idea! Oh and wow, these look incredible!!!

  13. @ 5 Star Foodie: I love history, and particularly food history as well - I'm so glad you're liking this!
    @pegasuslegend: maybe we'll open a combo Italian and ancient bakery together?
    @evelyne, @april, @kelly, @tastyeats, @alison, @simplylife: thanks so much! I'm so glad you're enjoying it.
    @miriam: Poppa Trix made the logo for me, I love it too!
    @sanjana: thank you! i hope you won't mind when i do fish dishes : ( Just 2 though - everything else is veg!
    @silvia: isn't ancient cooking so interesting? i thought about doing some Roman dishes, but i decided to save that for another year.
    @angie: if you find any grains of paradise give me a holler please!
    @vegetablematter: i want to see those fig newton recipes! i wonder if this is their origin in some way?

  14. i love this! i'm obessed with ancient cultures and their recipes - and i always wonder about the amounts, too, since it seems no one really wrote that down. i love this fig recipe and can't wait to see what else you'll be featuring!

  15. oh wow what a wonderful series these look great i am enjoying it already whats next!!!

  16. very well done Trix - didn't know what to expect but you are certainly off to a wonderful know I love old recipes, never dappled in ones 500 years ago but you certainly have a gift…and one for all of us too…nice research … an A+

  17. Oh wow, these sound good! I've never tried anything out of Forme of Cury, although I've always wanted to!

    FYI I did a little looking and found the following:

    Grains of Paradise
    Cubeb peppers

    I'm really curious about the grains of paradise; I might have to pick some up. :)

  18. absolutely have given me a great idea for some empanadas i am making this weekend...and i hit my 'like' button and sent this to my friends so consider yourself stumbled upon!!

  19. I love this series that you're making and I absolutely love figs. Looking forward for the next 11 days of Medieval feasting. :D

  20. What a great idea! The fig pies look & sound great. And not what I would have expected when thinking of Medieval food... I look forward to what you'll cook up for the next 11 days!

  21. What a nice way to start the festive season! And I will be interested to see how all your medieval recipes. Very interesting!

  22. very cool! I like the idea of medieval recipes

  23. If you want the unusual spices, and i really recommend it because they add a lot to the recipes and you will fall in love with them when you taste them... try:

    Although these spices used to be impossible to find.. they are easy now... there really was a cubeb-grains of paradise instant pepper grinder at Whole Foods!

  24. @anonymous - thank you! who are you?
    @lostpastremembered & telesilla: Thanks you for the links. you know, by the time I found the spices online it was too late as I had to start cooking! But I will definitely check that out for the future. My Whole Foods doesn't have dried black eyed peas half the time, so no cubeb peppers there! I had hoped to find them at my African store or Asian store, but no luck : (
    @Drick ... blush, blush!
    Everyone - thanks for checking this out!!

  25. What a great idea and they came out so lovely!

  26. Sounds delish, but I don't see how the saffron is actually used in the recipe. I see it in the ingredients list but not in the preparation. Can you please clarify how the saffron is used? Thanks!

  27. sorry @anonymous! It goes in the filling with the figs and powder fort! I'll fix that asap!!

  28. This is awesome! I think I am all caught up on your 4 days so far now (just returned from vaca). I heart figs and these fig pies are right up my alley!

  29. @experimentalculinarypursuits: welcome back from vacay! Your inbox must be stuffed full - thanks for checking this out!

  30. Genius!! Thank you so much for this recipe. It's the best Midieval dessert I could find. My wife and I are going to make these for our date night and I'll refer to this page on my blog.

  31. Thanks for the excellent recipe! Posted a link to your site from mine for a Medieval date night idea.