17th Century: Apple Tansy

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Preparation info

  • Makes a 25 cm 10 inch pancake; serves

    4–6

    • Difficulty

      Easy

Appears in

Pride and Pudding: The History of British Puddings, Savoury and Sweet

Pride and Pudding

By Regula Ysewijn

Published 2016

  • About

A tansy is a medieval egg bake using the bitter herb tansy. It would have been a dish made exclusively in spring when the tansy herb isn’t poisonous. Because of this seasonal link, the dish became associated with Easter and Lent. It would indeed be a perfect dish to use up the last eggs before fasting. Intriguing is the fact that in Flanders we have a pancake called ‘kruidkoek’ which is also made using tansy. It is a pancake that is now only eaten around the town of Diest, but it used to be a national dish.

Recipes for the English tansy first appear in 1430; of course, it would have been around for some time by then, but cookery manuscripts from that period are scarce. In early cookery books and manuscripts there was usually just the one recipe for a tansy, but soon we find recipes for an apple tansy, a damson tansy, and other variations often even omitting the bitter herb that gives its name to this dish. It is a possibility that this is because the herb is poisonous when picked at any other time than spring, and people still wanted to cook up a tansy at other times of the year when they had eggs to use up. By the seventeenth century, cream is added, along with spices such as nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon and probably mace. Breadcrumbs are also added sometimes.

To make an Apple-Tansey

Pare your Apples and cut them in thin round slices, then fry them in good sweet Butter, then take ten Eggs, sweet Cream, Nutmeg, Cinamon, Ginger, Sugar, with a little Rose-water, beat all these together, and poure it upon your Apples and fry it.

WM, The Compleat Cook, 1658

At some point in the eighteenth century the tansy recipes are renamed ‘tansy puddings’. Although tansies are usually prepared in a pan, over a fire, the Scottish Elizabeth Cleland in A New and Easy Method of Cookery in 1755 also gives a recipe for a ‘plain tansy’ cooked in the dripping pan under roasting meat, just like dripping puddings. Tansies are still cooked in Britain today, but now it is a name for a kind of pudding of which there are many variations.

Ingredients

    Method