Dorothy Hartley, Cattern Cakes & Lace
Victorian Epiphany Tart Recipe
One of my favourite books is “Food of England” by Dorothy Hartley, a veritable treasure trove of food, ingredients, customs, traditions, rural activities, crafts, foraging identification all accompanied with beautifully executed line drawings. The book is not just a recipe book, but an essential almanac covering the regional foods of Britain with charming observations about local traditions as well as intricate explanations of different cuts of meat, shapes and styles of English bread and even illustrations of regional sheep and cattle. In short, it’s a historical account of how life was over 60 years ago, recorded in journalistic detail and with a certain amount of humour, as such was Dorothy Hartley’s way. One of my favourite phrases from the book sums up exactly how I feel about English (and British) food, “English cooking is old-fashioned, because we like it that way” Dorothy says, and I wonder how many other people feel just the same way……it’s our historical basis for many a modern dish and the foundation of our culinary culture.
From the unusual “Bargee’s Pail”, how to cook a meal on a barge in a pail (bucket) to a collection of wooden spoons and how to make a stargazy pie, the illustrations bring to life methods and recipes from a fairly recent but almost forgotten era. Dorothy’s words are what I engage with when reading the book, and her observation and passion are always evident, but, the drawings are fascinating and extremely varied in their subject manner, so even a collection of saws and outdoor paraphernalia are included for those who are keen to follow a bucolic lifestyle in the country. Amongst the recipes for “Yorkshire Shrimp Teas”, “Ancestral Apple Pie”, “Buttered Crumbs” and “Orange-Flower Cream” there is a recipe, or should I say recipes, for intricate “Jam Tarts”, of which one is “Epiphany Tart”. An Epiphany Tart is made with thirteen different colours and types of jams, and sits in a star shape lattice-work, that obviously represents the star that led the Three Kings to pay homage to the baby Jesus and leave their gifts to him.
My recipe for Epiphany Tart today was made with NINE different jams and preserves, it was all I could muster at the time, but, it still looks wonderful, and as it should, like a stained glass window of glowing conserves and preserves. The recipe is an adapted one that I discovered in another favourite book of mine, “Cattern Cakes and Lace” by a much slimmer volume of traditional British recipes than Dorothy’s Food in England, this book is also beautifully illustrated with snippets of poetry, local ditties and anecdotes. Entertaining as opposed to being scholarly, it’s nevertheless a beautiful book with some wonderful historic recipes that follows the Christian year. As well as today’s Epiphany Tart recipe, I have made numerous other recipes from the book including the title recipe for Cattern Cakes, which are traditionally made on St Catherine’s Day in November.
But back to today, the 6th of January, which is Epiphany of course; I made this intricate jam tart yesterday, and then invited some friends over to enjoy a slice or two with a cup of tea in the afternoon. Although Victorian housewives would have used up to thirteen different jams for their tarts, which would have been entered into “Church Supper” contests, I managed nine different jams and preserves. My nine jams comprised: three fruit marmalade, ginger marmalade, cherry jam, raspberry jam, blackcurrant jam, greengage jam, fig jam, rhubarb jam and strawberry jam. I was disappointed that I didn’t have any lemon curd, but I still think that the colours and flavours were diverse enough to create quite a stunning jam tart.
Although I am in France at the moment, I return back the UK tomorrow, where the Galette des Rois are served on the 6th January, it’s this humble English Jam Tart that I am making for today……a little bit of home as I take down the last decorations and toast the Three Kings. For other Epiphany recipe ideas, why not try my King Cake: Rosca de Reyes, Wassail or my recipe for Curried Beef & Apricot Pie with a Salt Glaze Crust. I’ll be travelling tomorrow and working in London on Thursday, but I’ll be back with more news and recipes at the end of the week. Karen