I revisited an old favourite the other day, and it occurred to me that I have not shared it with you in any previous posts. It is well-known to any half-serious food historian, but good stuff bears repeating, Yes? It is Gervase Markham’s The English Huswife, Containing the Inward and Outward Virtues Which Ought to Be in a Complete Woman, which was published in 1615. The section I keep returning to refers to pastry making.
In Markham’s time, pastry ‘coffins’ functioned as baking containers (no shaped metal dishes until the Industrial Revolution), and would keep the contents eatable for a long time so long as the shell was not breached by cracking or becoming damp. A housewife had to have quite a repertoire of pastry types and shapes to accommodate different requirements – how big did it need to be, what were the contents, was the pie to be eaten hot or cold, was it to be kept long?
Markham explains what is needed:
Next to these already rehearsed, our English House-wife must be skilful in Pastry, and know how and in what manner to baked all sorts of meat, and what Paste is fit for every meat, and how to handle and compound such Pastes. As for example,Red Deer,Venison, Wild Boar, Gammons of Bacon, Swans, Elkes, Porpus and suchlike standing dishes, which must be kept long, would be bak't in a moyst, thick, tough, course, and long lasting crust, and therefore of all other, your Rye paste is best for that purpose; your Turkey, Capon, Pheasant, Partridge, Veal, Peacocks, Lamb, and all sorts of Water-Fowl, which are to come to the Table more than once, (yet not many dayes) would be bak't in a good white-crust, somewhat thick: therefore your Wheat is fit for them; your Chickens, Calves-feet, Olives, Potatoes, Quinces, Fallow Deer,and such like which are most commonly eaten hot, would be in the finest, shortest,and thinnest crust, therefore your fine Wheat-flower, which is a little baked in the Oven before it be kneaded is the best for that purpose.
To speak then of the mixture and kneading of Pastes, you shall understand, that your Rye-paste would be kneaded onely with hot water, and a little Butter, or sweet Seam, and Rye-flower very finely sifted; and it would be made tough and stiffe, that it may stand well in the rising, for the Coffin thereof must ever be very deep; your course Wheat-crust should be kneaded with hot water, or Mutton broth, and good store of Butter, and the paste made stiffe and tough, because that Coffin mull be deep also: your fine Wheat crust must be kneaded with as much butter as water, and the paste made reasonable light and gentle, into which you must put three or four eggs or more, according to the quantity you blend together, for they will give it a sufficient stiffening.
Of Puffe pasts. Now for the making of puff-paste of the best kind, you shall take the finest Wheat flower after it hath been a little bak't [dried] in a pot in the Oven, and blend it well with eggs, whites and yelks all together, and after the paste is well kneaded, roul out a part thereof as thin as you please, and then spread cold sweet butter over the same; then upon the same butter roul another lets of the paste as before, and spread it with butter also; and thus roul leaf upon leaf with butter between ill it be as thick as you think good: and with it either cover any bak't meat, or make paste for Venison, Florentine, Tart, or what dish else you please, and so bake it. There be some that to this paste use Sugar, but it is certain, it will hinder the rising thereof, and therefore, when your puff-paste is bak't, you shall dissolve Sugar into Rose-Water, and drop it into the paste as much as it will by any means, receive, and then set it a little while in the Oven after, and it will be sweet enough.