#329 John Evelyn’s Tart of Herbs


John Evelyn was a very influential diarist who left quite a legacy. He was from a well-to-do family in South-East London, but being the second son, had no rights to the estate (unless his brother died without having a son himself). So, to make up for this he decided to become a scholar and travelled France and Italy in search of knowledge during the tumultuous time of the English Civil War. He wrote several books, witnessed the Great Fire of London, and was friends with Christopher Wren and Samuel Pepys. He lived during the reigns of Charles II, James II and William III and Mary II. He was talented landscaper, designing the gardens at Sayes Court, London. He became quite chummy with Charles II and was a founding member of the Royal Society. One of his books, called Sylvia, or a discourse of Forest Trees declared the tragedy befalling the country’s trees that were being felled for fuel to the glass factories. The book was responsible for the planting of millions of trees – quite the modern conservationist!

During his later years, he planned to write an encyclopaedia of horticulture, but only got as far as the first chapter. This chapter was published as a book in its own right in 1699, titled Aceteria and it is from this book that this recipe comes:
An Herb-Tart is made thus: Boil fresh Cream or Milk, with a little grated Bread or Naples-Biscuit (which is better) to thicken it; a pretty Quantity of Chervile, Spinach, Beete (or what other Herb you please) being first par-boil’d and chop’d. Then add Macaron, or Almonds beaten to a Paste, a littlesweet Butter, the Yolk of five Eggs, three of the Whites rejected. To these some add Corinths plump’d in Milk, or boil’d therein, Sugar, Spice at Discretion, and stirring it all together over the Fire, bake it in the Tart-Pan.
These sorts of sweet vegetable-based tarts were commonly eaten as a pudding during wintertime when there was no fresh fruit to be had. I had heard of carrots being used in this way, but not spinach! So, with an air of dubiousness I followed the updated version that Jane Grigson provides which surprisingly only contains spinach…
Begin by cooking 2 pounds of spinach in a pan with a little water and salt. Cover the giant pile with a lid and simmer until it collapses – about 5 minutes.
From this…
…to this!
Let it cool before draining and squeezing out any liquid, and then chop it.
Mix an ounce of breadcrumbs with ½ pint of single cream in a pan and slowly bring it to the boil. Meanwhile soak 2 ounces of currants or raisins in some warm milk. Into the cream, stir the spinach along with 1 or 2 ounces of macaroon crumbs (for a recipe see here), 2 ounces of butter, 2 whole eggs and two egg yolks, 2 to 3 tablespoons of sugar and the raisins and milk. Stir the green slurry over a low heat until everything is well-incorporated. Add more sugar or macaroon crumbs and grate in some nutmeg to taste.
Line a 9 to 10 inch tart tin with some puff pastry and pour in the spinach mixture. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes at 220⁰C (425⁰F) until the pastry has begun the brown, and then turn the heat down to 180⁰C (350⁰F) bake until the filling is set, about 30 to 40 minutes.
This should be eaten hot or warm with some cream for pudding.
#329 John Evelyn’s Tart of Herbs. Well this was certainly a strange one and I haven’t made up my mind as to whether I liked it or not. There was no attempt at masking the flavor of the spinach, but it did marry surprisingly well with the fruit and other sweet things as well as the nutmeg. Even though everyone ate it quite happily we weren’t sure if it was a dessert, and after my fourth slice, I still wasn’t sure! I think it could be very successfully reproduced as an amuse-bouche or hors d’oeuvre though. An interesting winter-warmer, though maybe not for a pudding course. 7/10.

#272 Melted Butter

As our Jane quite rightly points out in English Food, many old recipe books suggest serving meat, fish and vegetables with good butter or good melted butter. This is not just high quality butter melted on the food, but a butter sauce not unlike hollandaise. The main difference being that flour is used to thicken the sauce instead of egg yolks, which makes the sauce much easier to make. In The Experienced English Housekeeper by Elizabeth Raffald, there are quite a few mentions of it, but no actual receipt. The recipe given here is from The Cook’s Guide by a certain Charles Elmé Francatelli who was briefly the chef at Buckingham Palace during the reign of Queen Victoria. Oh la-dee-da! (He left because he was disgusted with the filthiness of the kitchens.)
Anyways, the sauce seemed to be the perfect accompaniment to the poor old lobster I accidentally dismembered, then boiled. I’ll give the basic recipe and then the variations…
To make the sauce it is best to do the whole thing in a bain-marie or double boiler – i.e. a bowl over simmering water.  Weigh out 9 ounces of unsalted or lightly salted butter – Griggers suggests using a good Danish butter – melt one third of it in the ban-marie with some pepper and nutmeg. Next, stir in an ounce of flour and ¼ pint of cold water, using a whisk to prevent lumpiness. Heat until the sauce is at simmering point, then turn the heat right down and leave for 20 minutes for the sauce to thicken. Now beat in the rest of the butter piece by piece using the whisk. Add any flavorings you want at this point (see below for some suggestions). Season with lemon juice and salt, plus more pepper if required. Lastly, add a tablespoon of double cream for richness.
Flavorings:
Shrimp sauce – add some brown shrimp to the sauce at the end; use fish stock instead of water if you like
Lobster and crab sauces – add the chopped flesh plus some Cayenne pepper. If the lobster was a lady lobster with roe, then pass it through a sieve into the sauce.
Anchovy sauce – add some anchovy essence.
Herb sauce – add plenty of chopped herbs to the sauce near the end of cooking. For larger herbs like sorrel and spinach, steam and chop them before adding them to the sauce.
For the sauce I made, I didn’t want to chop the lobster up, so I stirred in the brown meat (which people think is inedible because of its consistency, but it is delicious) and some chopped parsley and provided it in a jug to be poured over the lobster halves.
Check out the fancy lobster tools!
#272 Melted Butter. I really like this surprisingly light sauce and it complimented the lobster brilliantly. Plus it was much easier than a sauce hollandaise – one didn’t have to stand next it hoping it wouldn’t split. I imagine it would be good to serve with fish, potatoes and asparagus for a Sunday lunch in the summertime. A definite winner this one.

#229 Vegetable Souffle

A quick one this one.

I made this vegetable soufflé for my mates Stuart and Jamie when they popped round to watch a DVD and have a few drinks. Stuart is a vegetarian and has never had a soufflé, which I find unbelievable as they appear often as the veggie option on menus. It’s like being vegetarian and saying you never had a mushroom risotto! I’ve not added a photo – there’s been a few soufflés now and they all seem to look the same.

Anyways, to make it, soften some onion and a garlic clove in some butter and add to it some cooked, pureed vegetables, about 7 ounces – spinach would work well. I went for mushrooms; I didn’t puree them, instead I diced them and softened them in the pan with the onions. Now follow the method for the cheese soufflé, though I used half the amount of cheese in it. Fold the vegetables into the mixture before adding the whisked egg whites.

#229 Vegetable Soufflé. These soufflés have all been great thus far. The mushroom and cheese combination is a great one; happily marrying the rich creamy salty tang of the Cheddar with the earthy mushrooms. Very good. 8.5/10