Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Mr. Woodhouse's Wholesome Apple Tart: From the Pages of Jane Austen's Emma

Source: Beeton's Book of Household Management, Isabella Beeton, London, 1861

“Miss Bates, let Emma help you to a little bit of tart – a very little bit. Ours are all apple tarts. You need not be afraid of unwholesome preserves here.”

Fans of Jane Austen's Emma will, no doubt, recognize this sentence as one that could only come from Emma's father, Mr. Woodhouse, who would never in modern terms be described as a foodie! Interestingly, when looking at the  service a la francaise dining style prevalent among the elite during Austen's lifetime (late 18th - early 19th centuries), you can see where exercising a bit of culinary restraint could prove to be beneficial to the health. The French dining style requires 2-3 broad courses each containing numerous dishes placed artfully and symmetrically on the table at the same time, family style. If a full three courses were offered, dozens of dishes could be served at one meal.

As a result, proving your social ranking and worth was displayed by restraint exhibited at table by either taking just a little bit of several of the dishes or by partaking of just a few favorites. Though Mr. Woodhouse's fear of culinary over-indulgence may border on the neurotic side, a man of his social standing would have definitely been taught from an early age to exercise moderation at table to show good breeding and manners, so maybe you can forgive him for his controlling tendencies!

This is a recipe from 1796 which may have been the inspiration for Mr. Woodhouse's Apple Tart:

John Perkins, Every Woman Her Own Housekeeper (London, 1796)

Notes on the Recipe:

  • Apples: According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a codling is "a variety of apple, in shape elongated and rather tapering towards the eye, having several modern sub-varieties, as Kentish Codling, Keswick Codling, etc." Furthermore, a  source in Austen's time, Forsyth's 1802 Treatise on Fruit Trees, claims that  "the Codlin is generally the first Apple that is brought to market." For the purposes of this recipe, because I cannot secure actual codlings, I am using one of my favorite apples, Ginger Gold. You can use your favorite, just be sure to adjust the amount of sugar to get the sweetness to your taste.
  • Baking Time: Notice that the recipe states "bake it quarter of an hour". That is just wrong! It's quite raw and soupy even after half and hour. I think he meant to bake it for one and a quarter hours, which is much closer to the actual time needed.

Apple Tart: Modern Recipe Adaptation

  • Sheet of Puff Pastry
  • 4 Cups Unsweetened Applesauce
  • 3/4 Teaspoon Grated Nutmeg
  • 1 Cup Sugar, Plus Extra
  • 3 Tablespoons Butter, Melted
  • 4 Large Eggs
  • 2 Egg Yolks

  1. Line one deep dish pie plate or two small pie plates, each with a sheet of puff pastry. Then, set the pie plates in the refrigerator until needed. 
  2. Heat the oven to 375ยบ F.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, add the applesauce, nutmeg, sugar, and butter. Whisk together until well blended. Add the four eggs and the additional two egg yolks and whisk until it looks creamy and smooth.
  4. Pour the apple mixture into the prepared pie plate(s) and bake for about 60 minutes or more for the deep dish plate or 45 minutes for the smaller plates, or until the apple filling is set and light golden in color.
  5. Immediately after you remove the pie(s) from the oven, sprinkle the top with granulated sugar. Allow the pie to cool completely, preferably overnight, before slicing into it. It is a very moist pie and needs to set up or it will be very runny and not hold together. 

Apple Tart by Perkins, Recipe c. 1796

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