Friday, December 30, 2005

Tart on Ember Day

Parboil onions, and sage, and parsley and hew them small, then take good fat cheese, and bray it, and do thereto eggs, and temper it up therewith, and do thereto butter and sugar, and raisyngs of corince, and powder of ginger, and of canel, medel all this well together, and do it in a coffin, and bake it uncovered, and serve it forth.

Several years ago, for a dinner after which the invited couples were to each enact a dialogue from Shakespeare, I researched and made this dish. Unfortunately, I've lost the source and historical details, but the recipe dates from the Medieval era. Its blend of flavors is unusual by today's standards, yet delicious. We enjoyed it last night for dinner. Here's the modern version:

7 ounces Muenster cheese
4 medium onions
1/3 cup parsley
2 Tablespoons fresh sage
4 eggs
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
4 Tablespoons currants
9-inch pie crust

Chop onions, boil 10 minutes, drain. Grate cheese. Mix everything and put in pie crust. Bake at 350 for 50-60 minutes.

There's something about the fact that a pie crust used to be called a coffin that gives me pause. I don't know the etymology. What does it say about us that we use the word coffin as we do now, or that we no longer use it for pie crusts?

Update: A little further research did not turn up a source that corresponded exactly to the notes I took, but did seem to verify that the recipe apparently dates from the early 15th century "Ancient Cookery," which seems to be credited to the Arundel Collection, No. 344, p.275-445.

16 Comments:

Blogger zhoen said...

According to the OED, the first meaning is a basket, from the Greek. Second it is a chest, case, casket, box. Only third is it a box for a corpse, earliest quotes about 1420.
A pie (pye) dish or mould comes later in the list, and is obs.
In Yojimbo there is a funny scene where Toshiro Mifune is smuggled out of town in a round, basket, coffin.

12/30/2005 4:13 PM  
Blogger MB said...

Thanks, Zhoen!

All I want for Christmas is an OED,
an OED,
an OED!
Gee, if I could only
have an OED,
then I could do my own
etymology!

(Sorry!)

Yes... but I wonder how it came to be associated (only) with a box for a corpse? And why around 1420? These changes in word use fascinate me.

12/30/2005 4:36 PM  
Blogger Brenda said...

While I admit I do find the ingredients a bit strange, onions, cheese, & currents in a pie crust, I'm sure it's delightfully Shakespearean, and sometime I will try it. Thanks!

There is an online etymology dictionary: etymonline, I don't know how good it is, but this is what it had to say on "coffin": c.1330, from O.Fr. cofin "sarcophagus," earlier "basket, coffer," from L. cophinus "basket," from Gk. kophinos "a basket," of uncertain origin. Funeral sense in Eng. is 1525; before that it was literal and had also a meaning of "pie crust." Coffin nail "cigarette" is slang from 1880.

Still, I almost like the idea of being wrapped up in pastry and lowered... (sorry!) No, no, I'd prefer the hot oven, and cremation.

But not a coffin nail.

:) xo

12/30/2005 7:01 PM  
Blogger Mary said...

MB: thank you for this recipe and for the research, I will try it!

12/31/2005 12:35 AM  
Blogger zhoen said...

MB,
Well, I know what song is going to be going through my head at 2AM.

12/31/2005 9:51 AM  
Blogger moira said...

Sounds like a fun experiment... I love the color of the language. And now I am brought to mind of a couple of wonderful food poems you've posted in the past (particularly one about apples and/or cheese? I will have to go back and look now. Such character.)

Speaking of vibrant language, I loved that you posted a Neruda poem. Saw it and had nothing to say outside of that: that it was a pleasure to read.

Happy New Year to you.

12/31/2005 6:04 PM  
Blogger Mary said...

Happy New Year, MB. You have encouraged and inspired me in 2005. Thank you.

1/01/2006 12:21 AM  
Blogger MB said...

Brenda, it is surprising and delicious. I haven't had anyone try it yet who hasn't liked it. Thanks for the link to the online etymology dictionary - didn't know such a thing existed!

Zhoen, sorry, got carried away!

Moira, how thoughtful of you to refer back to previous poems. I'm glad you enjoyed the Neruda. It is, I suppose, my best hope for the new year. Happy New Year to you, too!

Mary, me too, me too. You've added to my daily life in ways I could never have predicted - all good! Happy New Year to you, too!

1/01/2006 3:59 PM  
Blogger T L Reynolds said...

I'm going to try this recipe, mb...Words like coffin turn in my head as well. It reminds me: the word "bed" is derived from the word "bedden"(or something like that) that meant "to dig". That's one that keeps me wondering.

1/01/2006 7:17 PM  
Blogger MB said...

TLReynolds, you must let me know what you think of the recipe when you try it! And now I'll have another word running around my brain for a while.

1/01/2006 8:53 PM  
Anonymous Sara said...

That looks so yummy! I first had a savory onion tart a couple of years ago at a furiously expensive French restaurant in Newport, RI. Sometimes I crave it in my sleep. This sounds really great, too, but sweeter maybe. There was no fruit or cake spice in the other, and the cheese was gruyère. I like the idea of sage and muenster.

Thanks!

1/04/2006 10:10 AM  
Blogger MB said...

Sara, yes, it's essentially a sort of quiche. It has a sweetness to it, but rounded out by the fuller dimensions of lots of onion, parsely and sage. The muenster is gentle enough to carry it all, I think. Let me know what you think, if you try it.

1/04/2006 2:28 PM  
Blogger Sue hardy-Dawson said...

I love reading old writing it's amazing how much words evolve over time, till it is so hard to understand, particulrly where immagery is involved, but this was great fun, we're doing Macbeth with our year nines this term so I might give them all a copy of this and see if they can work it out. It looks like it will taste great

1/05/2006 11:22 AM  
Blogger MB said...

How old are "year nines"? I'm not sure if that refers to age or level. The nice thing about your idea is that this piece is short, and strange, but pretty readily translated. It would be wonderful if you could bake it with them, or even just bake beforehand and bring in to sample. I have done this in the form of small tarts — just distributing the filling among crust-lined tart forms. I don't know how long that would take to cook, but it would be easier to hand out. (Can you see their faces as they taste it?!) If you use this in any way with them, I'd love to hear about how it went.

1/05/2006 11:44 AM  
Anonymous the Pot Boy said...

Finally we make it to the kitchen! How about some cookery and pots-and-pans poems?

Among old recipes, I'm partial to pother...

1/23/2007 11:48 AM  
Anonymous Acai Berry Diet said...

Hi dear,
I will also try to make this dish and enjoy it. And thanks dear for telling the recipe of this..

10/29/2010 3:57 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home