Foods and Feasts 2015, Governor’s Table: Banbury Tarts

First, here are the links to two more of the Foods & Feasts recipes – fig pudding, and pease pudding. The pudding is an old English way of cooking food, and refers to any food that is cooked in a water bath.  In case anyone is worried about the taste, pease pudding tastes like cooked peas or split pea soup, and fig pudding tastes like Fig Newtons.

Another old recipe is the spiced fruit and pastry Banbury Tarts; they are mentioned in Gervase Markam’s The English Housewife (1615) as a cake, and Thomas Dawson’s The Good Housewife’s Jewell (1596-7) as “cremitaries” or purses.

From The Good Housewife’s Jewell:

Take a little marrow, small raisins, and dates (let the stones be taken away) these being beaten together in a mortar.  Season it with ginger, cinnamon, and sugar.  Put it in fine paste and bake them or fry them.  So done, in the serving of them cast blanch powder on them.

My recipe is adapted from several additional sources as I’ve tried to perfect the taste and mouthfeel of the recipe over 10+ years of making them for people.

Banbury Tarts (recipe)

1/2 cup each of golden raisins, dark raisins, dried figs, dried dates, and currants.  Chop the dates and figs into pieces roughly the size of the dark raisins.

1 Tbsp each of ground cinnamon, mace, allspice, and ginger.

1/2 Tbsp each of ground cloves, nutmeg, and white pepper.

1 cup sweet wine, like Madeira or Marsala

4 pre-made pastry crusts (I like the refrigerated Pillsbury brand), or enough pastry to make 32 three-inch circles.

2 WEEKS -2 MONTHS AHEAD: Mix all fruit and spices in a lidded Tupperware-style container.  Put the lid on the container and shake a few times to distribute the spices evenly over the fruit.  Pour in the wine, and give the closed container another good shake.  Store in a cool dark place, giving the sealed container a shake every week or so.  (This mix will stay good indefinitely.  If it dries out too much, add a bit more wine.)

When you are ready to make your tarts, prepare or open your pastry for cutting.  Cut out as many 3″ circles as you can get out of the pastry; gather up and re-roll pastry scraps.  Brush the inside of each pastry circle with milk, then put 1/4 to 1/2 Tbsp of fruit in the center.  Fold the pastry up on three sides, creating a triangle-shaped pouch.  Press edges together firmly.

BAKING METHOD: Preheat oven to 375F.  Put sealed tarts 1/4″ apart on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.  Brush the outsides with milk.  Bake at 375F for 18 minutes, or until the top is a nice golden brown. Put on a cooling rack until pastries are room temperature.

FRYING METHOD:  Using a deep fryer or a large heavy saucepan, fry sealed pastries in hot oil until golden brown on the outside.

OPTIONAL:  Warm 1/4 cup honey until liquid, brush on the outsides of the pastry.

The pastries will store in a sealed container for up to 3 weeks.

NEXT TIME:  Gingerbread.

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