I had a lot of fun trying a recipe from the 1744 book Adam’s Luxury and Eve’s Cookery. I choose to make a bean tart because it seemed slightly unusual and also because I am vegan and this recipe sounded quite easy to turn into a plant based one.
The ingredients were not particularly hard to find but I was a bit confused by the words “sweetmeats” and “petty pans”. The first in archaic English refers to a food rich in sugar, for example a candied or crystallized fruit so I decided to use a mix of raisins and candied peel. I guessed that a modern equivalent of “petty pans” could be a muffin tray. I was also uncertain whether marrow referred to the vegetable or bone marrow, but whatever the author had meant only one worked in my vegan dish.
The recipe called for a quarter of a pint of lemon juice – strangely specific, given that no measurements were given for any other ingredient. I decided to cook enough for six little tarts to fill my muffin tray.
I started by boiling and blanching the green beans and then I placed them in my shop-bought “puff paste”, then I added a layer of sweetmeats and a layer of sugar. I closed the tarts with another layer of puff pastry then poured a mix of boiled and blended marrow, lemon and spices (mace, cloves and nutmeg) through a hole in the top. I then baked them for some 30 minutes and, once cooked, I added wine mixed with margarine (in place of the recipe’s wine, egg yolk and butter).
The tarts looked and smelled promising… But the marrow, the beans, the horrible looking mix of white wine and margarine that I had poured in the top had all set my expectations low, and I was prepared to be disgusted. My three guests and I hesitated to try them, but we were all surprised that the bean tarts were, in fact okay. Comments varied from “edible” to “very nice”. You could not really taste either the beans or the marrow, because the spices, lemon and wine dominated. They tasted to me like lemony mince pies – with an occasional mouthful of soggy green bean – and all in all I would recommend this recipe to anyone wanting to try something a little different this Christmas.
Elizabeth David was a British cookery writer, who transformed the nation’s eating habits during the mid-twentieth century. As part of her research into the social history of food David collected cookery books and left her private collection of historical material (234 volumes) to the Warburg Institute Library. The digital collection on the Warburg Digital Library, when complete, will include approximately 150 of these: those which we cannot digitize for copyright reasons can be found in the Library under Banqueting classmark (DCH 250-DCH 540).