Friday, March 14, 2008

Pi(e) No. 5

March 14 ...

Pi day dawns. In gratitude to the mathematicians of the world who do mathematics ungrudgingly, leaving me free of the worry of it, I give a thanksgiving pie. A thanksgiving pumpkin pie of course, even though I am from the wrong continent(s) entirely for such a tradition. Or am I?

Once upon a time there was ‘a kynde of Melones’ called ‘pompones’ or ‘pompion’. Certainly the pompion was known in England by 1526, when it was described this way in the Grete Herball of Peter Treveris. The term may have been used fairly loosely for a number of edible gourds, but let us stay in the spirit of the day and consider a pompion was close enough to what we would call a pumpkin today (or maybe a squash). There are many recipes for pompion pie in English cookbooks, and when the early seventeenth century English went to the new colony across the Atlantic, they took their cookbooks with them. The pompion/pumpkin pie thrived in its new home so well - as it simultaneously slipped into an elegant decline in its ‘old’ - that it all but forgot its heritage.

Its heritage was not pure Anglo of course (but then the English are a mongrel race if ever we were one) – it seems it had an Italian parent. An ancestor of the pumpkin pie appears in a book published in Venice in the sixteenth century – an ancestor containing cow’s udder - but a recogniseable pumpkin pie nontheless. The first edition of Epulario was in 1516, but it is accepted to be a plagiarised copy of the work of Maestro Martino of Como at least half a century before. The recipe I give you today is from the 1598 English translation, grandly entitled Epulario, Or, The Italian Banquet; Wherein is shewed the maner how to dresse and prepare all kind of Flesh, Foules, or Fishes. As also how to make Sauces, Tartes, Pies, &c. After the Manner of all Countries. Translated out of the Italian into English..

To make a Tart of Pompeons.
Take Pompeons and make them cleane and grate them as you doe Cheese, and boile them a little in broth and milk, then take as much Cheese as aforesaid, adde to it also a little old Cheese, take also a pound of the panch [paunch] of a Hogge, or a Cowes Udder well sodden [boiled] and chopped small, and if you will you may use Butter instead of those two things aforesaid, or Suet, adding to it halfe a pound of Sugar, a little Saffron and Sinamon with a quart of milk, and Egges, as need requireth. And when you thinke the Pompeons are sodden, take them up and straine them, and colour it with Saffron, then make a crust of past under it, put it in a pan, and make a soft fire both under and over it, and being half baked, cover it with Wafers or such like stuffe instead of an upper crust, and being thorow baked, straw it with Sugar and Rosewater.

Monday’s Story …

A dispensation for St Pat’s Day.

Quotation for the Day …

Her washing ended with the day,
Yet lived she at its close,
And passed the long, long night away
In darning ragged hose.
But when the sun in all its state
Illumed the Eastern skies,
She passed about the kitchen grate
And went to making pies.
‘The Wife’ Phoebe Cary (1824-1871)


Lidian said...

Thank you for the enlightenment about the pumpkin - I had no idea that they were making pumpkin pies in the 16th century. What fun it must have been grating a raw pumpkin! I had enough trouble carving one up for Halloween, never mind grating it.

I too am thankful that I am not a mathematician.

Thanks to you for the pi/pie inspiration - I posted about pie as well.

alexander said...

Fascinating that, over 100 years after the fall of Byzantium, European cookery was so informed by the habits of the East - rosewater over a savoury pie, stews of dairy, vegetable and meat (allowed in Islam, banned by Kosher) and saffron and cinnamon to add spice. But then this recipe came from Italy, perhaps on an overland route from Venice, where so many Greeks fled after the fall, taking their rich artistic, literary and - aye - culinary skills. Little wonder that there's a hint of Apicius in the sow's udder and porcine paunch!

The Old Foodie said...

Hello Alexander. Yes, it is wonderful, isnt it? Rosewater and saffron figured very large in British oooking for quite a few centuries.

alexander said...

Yes, TOF - and a number of other imports from the East, too. What fascinated me about this recipe is that it seems to be something of a 'work in progress' en route from the East to the West!