Eating Medieval: Apple Tart

The Scene:

Harclay waited in the castle courtyard to meet MacDougall personally. There were rumors he was in a black mood these days—something about a prisoner escaping his gallows, and a false accusation against the young Niall Campbell, resulting in public humiliation. The Scots would be at Carlisle sooner or later, and he’d as soon not have to deal with MacDougall’s moods, as they discussed the anticipated attack.

He greeted the lord as he rode in from the orchards. Reaching a hand on his reins, he said, “Welcome, My Lord! There’s a fine meal being laid even now for you and your men, and I’ve a wonderful lutar for you, only recently arrived!”

As he dismounted, MacDougall smiled.

A good start, Harclay thought irritably. He disliked having to soothe grown men’s tempers.

“A lutar and an orchard full of comely young lasses,” MacDougall said. “It seems my stay will be pleasant indeed.” “My Lord?” Harclay questioned. “Lasses in my orchard?”

The Water is Wide
Book Three of The Blue Bells Chronicles

Hildegard of Bingen on Apples:

Hildegard is referenced in several other posts.  She was a visionary, saint, physician, author, diplomat, preacher, and composer, who lived about 250 to 300 years before Niall's time. I suspect her life and writings may have been known in Scotland in the 1300s, and her ideas would likely have still held sway, at least with some.

Hildegard saw the apple tree as hot and moist--so moist that it would flow forth if not held back by the heat. The leaves of the apple tree, taken in springtime before the tree produces its annual fruit, were helpful to fogginess in the eyes.  The leaves must be pounded to express sap and add to an equal measure of drops from a grapevine, and kept in a metal jar.  At night, these drops were to be used to moisten the eyelids with a feather.

For headache or pain from illnesses of liver, or bad humors of the belly: Hildegard recommended taking the first shoots of the apple tree and placing them in olive oil in a jar that would then be warmed in the sun. Drinking this potion often before going to bed would help relieve the headache.

For pains in the shoulders, loins, or stomach, she took earth from around the root of the apple tree, when the blossoms first came out in the spring.  This dirt was heated over fire, and the warmed dirt, placed on the aching place.

The Recipe, from The Form of Curye:

2 apples
2 pears
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup dried figs
2 tablespoons butter (or margarine)
1 teaspoon of powder douce *
a pinch of saffron
a pie crust

* To make powder douce, which is called for in many medieval recipes, simply mix together

3 tablespoons ginger
2 tablespoons sugar
1-1/2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon nutmeg

Bonus points if you remember what other recipe used cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg!

Cut all fruits into small pieces, Mix fruit, spices, and butter well.  Place them in a pie crust and bake 45 to 50 minutes until done.

The Results:

Delicious! I wasn't too excited about a pie with dried figs. In fact, I'm not a huge fan of pies to begin with, although I do like apple pie well enough.  But neither had I ever had pie with pears in it.  

Further, this pie contains very little sugar compared to what many recipes today call for.  Not that I would know, having never baked a pie in my life (sticking a pre-made in the oven doesn't count), but I was so informed by my helper in this project.  

(Okay, another side note, the DO-er in this project.  I really just sat around looking up recipes and working on the cookbook, and e-mailing a list of ingredients, ignoring the activity going on around me while I sipped wine and worked hard, and low and behold, an hour or so later, Apple Muse and Apple Tart appeared next to my laptop!  It was kind of magical!)

But back to the point about sugar--I think I liked this 'tart' far better than our modern pies, despite (or because of?) the significantly less sugar in it.  I highly recommend it, although if you can make only one of the apple recipes, I recommend the apple muse.


  1. Do-er, helper, wine-r, whatever. It was fun. :-)


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