Old-Fashioned Cooking: Strawberry Tart


Come on, strawberries!

In this modern-day-take-it-out-of-the-freezer-and shove-it-in-the-microwave world, we often lose sight of what real food tastes like. Not too surprising, when you look at the ingredient lists on most prepared foods. Many so-called foods have more chemicals than food ingredients. I figure if you can’t even pronounce half the ingredients, you shouldn’t rely on it as a major food source. On the other hand, just think about beef stew or chili simmering slowly through the day, ready to warm the cockles of your heart – not to mention your cold hands – come dinner time. Or home-made breakfast burritos or Cornish pasties, stored in the freezer for those mornings when you can barely find the kitchen, let alone think up a menu.

Since Henry the Eighth died in 1547, odds are he tried a recipe very similar to this one. Old King Hal being a notable trencherman, he may have eaten several at one sitting. I bet the strawberries of the Tudor period tasted a heck of a lot better than the stuff we currently find on supermarket shelves, though, so maybe we can understand Henry’s gluttony. Unless you grow your own old-fashioned strawberry varieties or can find some wild ones to eke out the supermarket kind, you’ll probably want to add a bit of sugar.

Here’s the original recipe, from Margaret Parker’s A Proper newe Booke of Cokerye, published in 1557.
“To make a tarte of strawberyes.
Take and strayne theym wyth the yolkes of foure egges, and a lyttle whyte breade grated, then season it up wyth suger and swete butter and so bake it.
To make short paest for tarte.
Take fyne floure and a cursey of fayre water and a dysche of swete butter and a lyttel saffron, and the yolckes of two egges and make it thynne and as tender as ye maye. The coffyn must be fyrste hardened in the oven.”

Strawberry Tart – The Modern Version
2 ½ cups strawberries
4 egg yolks
2 slices of bread, grated to make breadcrumbs
1 ½ cups brown sugar
½ cup unsalted butter (melted)
For the pastry
2 ¼ cups plain flour
1 1/8 whole wheat flour
7/8 cup butter, softened
2 egg yolks
2 tbsp water (warm)
2 strands of saffron

Place the saffron in the warm water and let it sit for five minutes. Sift the flours into a bowl and dice in the softened butter. Rub the butter into your flour with your fingertips. Beat the egg yolks and then add them to the flour with the saffron water. Mix until you have a soft, silky pastry. Add one or two spoonfuls of flour if it seems wet. Knead gently for a few minutes, then cover with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes. Grease a large tart or flan tin. Prep the strawberries while the pastry chills – wash, hull and mash slightly with the brown sugar, breadcrumbs, melted butter and beaten egg yolks. Preheat oven to 350°F. Roll out the pastry and line the tart tin, trimming edges. Line with foil or parchment paper and fill with pie weights or pennies. Bake about 10 minutes or until the pastry has dried. Remove the foil/paper and weights, pour in the filling and bake an additional 20 to 30 minutes. Cool before serving.

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