Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Parma Tarts

What do you do when friends get sick and can't run a feast? When you find out the menu is only half planned? Why take the worry off their hands, 50 hours before the first remove is due to be served. I think I did quite well, the food was only a bit late, I only ruined one dish, and the shopping was only slightly over budget. There was lots of food (in an emergency I'd rather err on the side of over catering), and judging from comments, I managed to make it all tasty. I'm blessed with living in a shire where every third person seems to be a cooking laurels or cook's guild master, so I had high standards in taste and authenticity, and also the best helpers on the planet. (There's no way the feast could have happened without so many selfless and experienced helpers).

If I'd had an extra 24 hours, I would have been able to draw up a detailed plan of what happened in the kitchen when, and a better list of equipment I wanted to borrow. And I would have been able to do more pre-prep than peel a few carrots and onions. I think then I'd have managed to get the second remove out the hour earlier that I'd intended. (It was still early enough to not be particularly noticed though I think)

Anyway, I'm going to call it a roaring success, especially at job interviews. Actually 2 weeks later I'm still feeling proud. And I'd still like to thank everyone, especially the Friday rescue crew, and a certain friend who managed without her partner while she was feeling miserable.

The feature dish of the first service was the Parma tarts. Since I had a request at the feast, and I'd like my notes to be available to me later (this is a recipe I'd like to try again) here is the recipe semi-redaction I made. The feature dish of the second remove - the cheese tarts- you'll have to ask Estienne for. (although I know it was much more popular than the parma tarts)

Parma Tarts At the feast
Gwir prepared the lovely parma tarts you tasted at the feast. It must have been quite a challenge working without the chance to taste to dish before it was served, nor to improve the dish with a second cooking. Several compromises had to made made in terms of cost, time and ingredient and cooking vessel availability. I'd love to try this recipe again, maybe with the gilding and wafers.

I do not claim this to be a full redaction - there are no exact quantities of spices or explanations of how to make pastry or how much is required. This is just a rendering of a medieval recipe into the type of notes I'd cook directly from. I cannot give you the exact recipe Gwir used, as I doubt she took the time to write down what she did. But I can give you the notes I made that she worked from. And given that each master cook cooks differently anyway, hopefully those notes will be enough for most of you.

The recipe
This recipe is mainly taken from "Du fait de cuisine" (Savoy, Burgandy 1420), from the online version translated by Elizabeth Cook. This seemed most appropriate as Savoy appears to have been part of Burgandy at this time, and it was quite close to the year of the feast 1453.

Scroll down a little from here to find the Parma tart recipe. Also from the same recipe book is parma tarts of fish and nurriz pastries, which are similar recipes.

The text of the original is quite long and unusually detailed for a medieval recipie. So first I transcribed Master Chiquart's original recipe into ingredients and method. (And he must have been able to teach me a few things about running a feast kitchen - what a big feast this must have been.)

salt pork from 3 or 4 pigs,
300 salted pigeons (salted as in boiled in salt water)
200 salted very young chickens or capons
600 salted small birds
lots of lard
6 pounds each figs, dates, pine nuts, prunes, diced (to raisin size)
8 pounds raisins
Large bowlful parsley with leaves torn up a bit, then chopped finely
sage, hyssop, marjoram "in measure", chopped finely
a quintail of best available Crampone or Brie Cheese, cut small,
600 eggs
spices (in mesure) - white ginger, fine powder, grains of paradise,
saffron (for colour), cloves
lots of sugar
2-3000 sugared wafers
washed leaves of spinach or white chard
banners with devices of lord present

1. Saute birds and pork lightly in lard, keeping them separated. Finely chop pork and add herbs.
2. Bray cheese in a mortar, continue braying while gradually add eggs. (Bray: pound; rub; grind; pound in a mortar)
3. Over a hot fire, cook pork in the lard remaining from step 1
4. wash dried fruits & pine nuts in water then white wine, set to drain and dry
5. throw drained fruits into pork, stir well
6. add cheese & egg, while braying strongly, then remove from heat
7. stirring continuously, add spices then lots of sugar
8. grease ceramic pans or dishes with lard
9. put layer of wafers into base of dishes, 4-5 thick
10. put filling on top of wafers
11. put the various birds on top of the filling, distributing fairly evenly
12. put more filling on top of this, then another layer of wafers (same thickness as before)
13. cover top of tart (wafers) with cold lard
14. place tart in hot oven. If wafers begin to burn, place leaves of spinach or chard on top to prevent this.
15. remove tarts from oven and scrape off all burned bits
16. place on fine serving dishes and decorate with gold leaf in the pattern of a chessboard
17. sprinkle powdered sugar on top
18. serve with a small banner of the device of each lord to whom it will be served

Next I attempted to quantify the medieval weights and measures. I was in quite a hurry (remember those 50 hours) so I didn't reference what internet sources I used to translate the terms (and to estimate the weight of a pig). Given an assumption of 1 chicken per large tart, the following quantities per tart result (/200).

650g salt pork
1.5 salted pigeons (salted as in boiled in salt water)
1 salted very young chickens or capons
3 salted small birds
lots of lard
14g each figs, dates, pine nuts, prunes, diced (to raisin size)
18g raisins
approx 1 cup parsley
a few leaves? sage, hyssop, marjoram (to taste)
225g of best available Crampone or Brie Cheese
3 eggs
spices to taste
lots of sugar
10-15 sugared wafers

Here are a few of my assumptions:
  • assuming figs are dried as accompanying other dried fruits
  • I think the raisins he talks so may be more like muscatels - sultana sized but closer to a raisin taste.
  • talk of powdering sugar - therefore expect it to be cone or loaf sugar, either brown sugar or more expensive white refined sugar. Since this isn't a confectionery use, I'll assume brown would suffice.
  • internet says quintail ="A hundredweight, either 112 or 100 pounds," but this is much later than this era, so may be different
  • internet suggests a marketable pig at 300-500pounds. guessing pork after removing fat, head, hocks, bones at say 70% of weight = 280 pounds, 130kg
  • cooking temperature and length - similar to you favourite way of doing ember day tart.
These quantities seem quite reasonable to me, judging from other medieval pies I've made. I think the method above combined with this ingredient list actually makes a fair recipie. Thankyou to Master Chiquart.

Finally I made a few alterations for the feast:
  • these quantities are for many tarts, scaled it down to one tart per table, although there was probably one tart per noble and retainers.
  • leaving out cheese, for cost, and allergy catering reasons
  • leaving out pigeons & small birds for cost and obtainability reasons, used extra chicken (ideally twice as much). The chicken used was breasts as modern people aren't used to bones in a pie, and are likely to choke. It would be nice to try the tarts with pigeon, capon and quail one day.
  • parma tarts of fish uses a pastry crust, but not wafers, so simpler versions are obviously possible. The wafer's didn't get bought, so pastry was used.
  • Our meat wasn't salted. As we moderns aren't used to such salty meat (we have fridges), I recommended to perhaps add only a little salt to mixture to compensate.
After I had completed this, I found another recipe for Parma tarts, this time in
Le Viandier de Taillevent (France c1395). This one (which is earlier and a little less elaborate) uses less fruit, but also interestingly a pastry crust. I draw from these three recipies that the essential portions of a Parma tart are:
  • main ingredient = meat (unless it specifically states otherwise eg parma tart of fish)
  • shell should be decorative
  • it's decorated, often with banners and gilded
  • it's a smaller personal pie, rather than a large one
  • it's taller than average
  • there should be some layering of meats
  • it should be well spiced and may have added dried fruits
Interestingly as I look now (after the feast) I find more mentions of Parma Tarts. I'd be interested if anyone comes across any other versions of this tart in their travels.