Thursday, January 25, 2007

Maids of Honour.


Today, January 25th …

Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn were married secretly on this day in 1533 by the Bishop of Litchfield, which gives us an excuse to enjoy or discount (or both) some myths about the delicious little English almond cheesecakes known as Maids of Honour.

Various versions of the myth have Anne making the tarts for Henry (ridiculous), Henry coming across the maids eating the tarts, sampling some himself, and being so enamoured of them he decided to secure the recipe (or the maid who invented them) and lock it (her) away (ludicrous), or Henry himself discovering the recipe in a locked trunk (plain silly). So, is there a connection at all?

Well, Anne came to Henry’s attention because she was a Maid of Honour to the wife he wanted to rid himself of (Catherine of Aragon) due to her failure to produce a viable heir. That’s it, the sum total of the connection. Why Anne? Why not some other Maid of Honour to some other Queen, or some other Maid of Honour and some other Queen’s Husband? Or is there another explanation altogether?

Maid-of-Honour tarts are also sometimes called Richmond Tarts. In the borough of Richmond in London, there is a little street called Maid-of-Honour Row which was built to house the Maids of Honour of Caroline, the wife of George II, two centuries after Anne’s short reign. Perhaps then there is some connection between this elegant row of houses and the Tarts? Several sources say that the first recipe for Maid of Honour Tarts are to be found in late seventeenth century books, but I have been unable to find any (please let me know if you know of their whereabouts). Alan Davidson in The Oxford Companion to Food gives a reference that suggests that the first print occurrence occurred in the Public Advertiser of 1769. Hannah Glasse places them in the second course of several of her suggested menus in the 1778 edition of The Art of Cookery (but does not give a recipe with the name). So – perhaps there is a mid-eighteenth century association with this little elegant row of houses, and not the mother of Queen Elizabeth I?

We are really only discussing a name of course. Medieval cookery sources have a huge variety of custard, cheesecake and almond tarts, and many of them are similar to our Maids of Honour. Names are important however, so I give you a recipe for them from the late eighteenth century – one without almonds, just to show that nothing is certain in this cooking life.

From: The New Art of Cookery, according to the present practice…; by Richard Briggs; 1792.

Maids of Honour.
Take half a pint of sweet curds, beat them well in a marble mortar till they are as smooth as butter. Put in half a pint of cream, the yolks of four eggs, the whites of two, well beaten and strained through a sieve; a quarter of a pound of fresh butter melted, a little grated lemon-peel, and nutmeg, one ounce of candied citron shred very fine, a glass of brandy, and a spoonful of orange flower water; sweeten it to your palate with powder sugar, mix the ingredients all well together, have your patty pans very small, sprinkle on a little flour, put a thin puff-paste over them, more than half fill them, and bake them in a moderate oven.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Australian Meat, English Pie.

A Previous Story for this Day …

If you have any Scottish blood, or wish you had, today is “Burns Day”, and you may need the complete instructions as to how to celebrate it.

Quotation for the Day …

The most dangerous food is wedding cake. James Thurber

2 comments:

MIRROR said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
isabella said...

Hi I am italian with a passion for all nordic bakery and pastry, I am going to bake it very soon the maids... the problem is that i do not exactly the way thet the look like......