Apicius Crusts the British
My favorite pudding is good old English apple pie.
In AD 46 Aulus Plautius invaded Britain bringing with him plenty of soldiers equipped with 60 pounds (27 kilograms) of equipment, which included shields, daggers, bows and arrows and, of course – a recipe book. During Roman occupation the adventurous soldiers not only built walls, large homes called villas but, to warm the hearts of the locals, shared recipes. One of those recipes happens to be what many today consider a British Classic – in reality, it is Roman. Ask Apicius.
What is this “British Classic” you ask… meat pies.
Don’t believe me? Check this out:
 [Baked picnic] Ham [Pork Shoulder, fresh or cured] Pernam The hams should be braised with a good number of figs and some three laurel leaves; the skin is then pulled off and cut into square pieces; these are macerated with honey. Thereupon make dough crumbs of flour and oil. Lay the dough over or around the ham, stud the top with the pieces of the skin so that they will be baked with the dough [bake slowly] and when done, retire from the oven and serve.
Now that half of Great Britain has their knickers in a wad and asking what the… allow me to continue on to the medieval time frame when the Europeans perfected the one ingredient needed to make this tasty treat. The pie crust. The pie crust of ancient Rome was flour and oil which, according to the experts had no real taste and did not hold up well in the baking process.
Tilly: It is possible that the Roman flour and oil crust was not intended to be eaten – a la the salt crust for baking fish and vegetables – but merely a convenience to cook and contain the pork, figs, and other goodies.
Back to medieval times and the Northern Europeans who added lard or butter to the mix and discovered the dough rolled out more easily and kept its shape when baked. Meat pies served another purpose. Economics, and larger households are just two of the reasons these tasty dishes survived.
It was in the late 16th or early 17th century that fruit was used.
Tilly: So the Romans beat us to it when they included figs in their pies – whether savoury or not. Makes me wonder what recipes and foods they took back to Italy. Marco Polo took pasta to Italy after his travels to China in the thirteenth century
The recipe below tells the reader just how important it is to use butter and cold water. This recipe dates back to 1669.
“My Lady Lasson makes her finest minced Pyes of Neats-tongues; But she holdeth the most savoury ones to be of Veal and Mutton equal parts very small minced. Her finest crust is made by sprinkling the flower (as much as it needeth) with cold water, and then working the past with little pieces of raw Butter in good quantity. So that she useth neither hot water, nor melted butter in them; And this makes the crust short and light. After all the meat and seasoning, and Plums and Citron Peel, &c. is in the Coffin, she puts a little Ambered-sugar upon it, thus; Grind much two grains of Ambergreece and half a one of Musk, with a little piece of hard loaf Sugar. This will serve six or eight pyes, strewed all over the top. Then cover it with the Liddle, and set it in the oven.”
Tilly: For some reason, I thought neats’ tongues would be birds’ tongues! Imagine the preparation … but they’re beef/ox tongues. Delicious … but Shakespeare had a word of two to contribute:
Falstaff: “‘Sblood, you starveling, you elf-skin, you dried neat’s tongue, you bull’s pizzle, you stock-fish!”
I am reminded that ‘pizzle’ is rather more couth than ‘pr**k’!
Enter the Americans. A cookbook titled “American Cookery” had the following Apple pie recipes:
Apple Pie – Stew and strain the apples, to every three pints, grate the peel of fresh lemon, add cinnamon, mace, rose-water, and sugar to your taste – and bake in paste No. 3.
A Buttered Apple Pie – Pare, quarter and core tart apples, lay in paste No.3, cover with the same; bake half an hour, when drawn, gently raise the top crust, add sugar, butter, cinnamon, mace, wine or rose-water.
Marlborough Pudding – Take 12 spoons of stewed apples, 12 of wine, 12 of sugar, 12 of melted butter, and 12 of beaten eggs, a little cream, spice to your taste; lay in paste No. 3, in a deep dish; bake one hour and a quarter.
Paste No. 3. To any quantity of flour, rub in three-fourths of its weight of butter, (twelve eggs to a peck) rub in one-third or half, and roll in the rest.
So everyone, which pie are you making?
Tilly: Silly Olive! The one with wine, of course, I wonder if they used sweet white wine or a nice Chardonnay. Or maybe Viognier. But happy to give the first one a whirl – love lemon and rose water in an apple pie.
Olive and Tilly