Pumpion Pie from Robert May.

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With the passing of Halloween and the coming of Thanksgiving, it seems almost inevitable that I offer a recipe for pumpkin pie. It is a relatively new addition to my baking reportoire and has a longer history here in Britain than you might imagine. The spice combination of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove hark back to the Medieval origins of the dish when spiced, stewed ‘pumpion’ was encased in a so called coffin of pastry before baking. The filling would be eaten and the pastry discarded, used to thicken stews or taken for food by poorer members of the household.

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The recipe I have adapted for today’s blog was published by Robert May, author of The Accomplisht Cook in 1685. This restoration period receipt sees many familiar ingredients as well as a combination of fresh thyme, marjoram and rosemary. He also fries his filling like a pancake before layering with apples and dried fruit in the casing. I loved the idea of including a sharp burst of apple as a contrast to the sweet, aromatic filling. It just happens that I acquired some heritage cookers at the same festival where I picked up my pumpkin, so after a little experimenting and lots of tasting I present you with my version of this 17th century recipe.

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Pumpion Pie another way

For the pastry

  • 110g plain flour
  • 115g wholemeal plain flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 50g salted butter
  • 1 egg

For the filling

  • 500g peeled, chopped pumpkin
  • 75g caster sugar with more if needed
  • 20g salted butter
  • 2 whole eggs and 2 egg yolks
  • 70ml single cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon each ground mace and white pepper
  • pinch of ground clove
  • one sprig each of fresh rosemary, thyme and greek basil
  • 1 large cooking apple peeled, cored and sliced
  • small handful sultanas

Preheat oven to 170C. Grease a deep, loose bottomed 27″ cake tin.

First make the pastry. Combine flours and salt before rubbing in the butter to fine breadcrumb texture. Using a cold knife mix in the egg and enough cold water to make a firm pastry dough. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Place the chopped pumpkin in a large pan with just enough water to cover. Bring to the boil and simmer until just tender. Strain and set aside.

Whilst the pumpkin is cooking prepare the herbs. Strip and finely chop the leaves and discard the stems. Pour 75g of sugar and the herbs into a mortar and combine the two with your pestle. Add the spices and stir.

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Return the cooked pumpkin to the pan and mash well. Stir in the butter, sugar/herb/spice combination and taste. Add more sugar if required and leave to cool.

While the filling is cooling roll out the pastry and line your cake tin. Prick the base with a fork and blind bake 25 minutes. Increase the temperature to 180C and bake 5 minutes more until lightly coloured.

Place your apple slices in the bottom of your cooked pastry case and scatter the sultanas on top. Set aside.

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Once the pumpkin filling has reached room temperature beat in the eggs and cream with a wooden spoon. Place the pan back on a low heat and gently warm through, stirring all time. The mixture should thicken slightly, this may take 10 – 15 minutes but you must be patient or the eggs will scramble. Pour the hot filling on top of the apples and tap the tin on the counter to remove air bubbles. Bake for 50 minutes until slightly puffed up and firm to the touch. Cool in the tin before serving as desired!

 

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That old forgotten fruit

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Quince are a mystifying fruit to the uninitiated. Solid and unyielding to the knife their yellow skins carry a thin layer of fluffy down and they seem scarred and unsightly compared to modern day tree fruit. On top of this quince require some level of processing as they would taste foul raw, if indeed you managed to take a bite without breaking teeth.

The golden – honey fruit has a long culinary history and a broad geography in origin. Jewish belief is that it was in fact the quince, rather than the apple, which Eve picked on that fateful day. In Ancient Greece brides would nibble on quince to sweeten their breath before entering the bed chamber, and it was the main ingredient in the Portuguese marmalada; Henry VIII’s favourite import.

It was through my research on fruit preserves that I first encountered this underused member of the rosacea family. The Tudor sweetmeat is a close relative of the Spanish dulce de membrillo, an excellent addition any cheeseboard. Many recipes can be found online and it is a simple, if lengthy process perfect for filling a blustery October day. Today I aim to guide readers to a more accessible way of introducing the quince into every day cookery. I should point out that I take inspiration from a medieval dish of ‘pear baked in wine’ for the infusion of fortified wine and cinnamon in the poaching stock.

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Poached Quince

Take a sharp knife and cut 5 quince into quarters. Carefully remove the core and lay cut side down into a large ovenproof pot. Pour 300ml water and 100ml madeira wine. Finish with a generous slug of honey and a couple of small cinnamon sticks. Cover and bake for 30 – 40 minutes or until cooked through.

The quince can be eaten hot or cold at this stage; with a spoonful of creme fraiche and an extra drizzle of honey. Or pop them in the bottom of a roasting dish of belly pork and onions as a sharp contrast to the crackling.

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Leftovers will sit quite happily in their juices for a couple of days. Hide a few in your apple pie for a floral depth that will keep people guessing. Dice into bite size pieces and stir into a rice pudding along with a little more madeira, ginger and brown sugar. They sit wonderfully with sweet and sticky flavours of cinnamon, ginger honey or maple syrup, so play around a little and help me stop the quince becoming an old forgotten fruit.