This is where I note my efforts as I try to recreate some old recipes. Most are taken from my small collection of handwritten recipe books which date from the late 1700's to around 1922. I also have a collection of old tatty old recipe books, well thumbed and heavily splashed from years of use. I love them all!

The old-fashioned very stylised handwriting writing is sometimes difficult to decipher, measurements and cooking instructions are minimal, no tin sizes given. Luckily I enjoy a challenge. Just to complicate things I cook and bake on my wood-fired Rayburn, which can be... unpredictable.

I suspect this blog is less about the food and more about my passion for these lovely old books and the wonderful women who wrote them.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Rhubarb Cartwheel Flan + 18th Century Recipe for Crisp Pastry, No Soggy Bottoms!

The rhubarb forcer is in danger of losing its lid; time to begin eating the early rhubarb.

I trawled through my old books but most of the rhubarb  recipes are for jams and preserves,  which seems a shame when the rhubarb is so fresh and young.     I could easily have made a crumble, or rhubarb and custard cake, but it is good to try new recipes.

A couple of days ago I was gifted a big pile of  cookery books which belonged to a lovely old man in our village.  

They are not nearly as old as the books which I normally collect and enjoy so much, but that doesn't matter.    They belonged to our dear friend Oscar, and his late wife, and have obviously been well used during the forty or fifty years they spent with them.   That reason alone, earns them some space on my bookshelves.

Ignoring the relative youth of these books (a mere 50/60 years)  the only other draw back to them is the smell.     Nothing awful, just old book smell.      I know some people love that smell.  

I don't.

Luckily I have a solution.  

You simply need a box with a lid and some fresh cat litter.     Put a good layer of the cat litter at the bottom of the box and then put your book inside* and close the lid.   Leave for a week or two, after which time the smell should be gone.

* You may want to put something between your book and the litter, just to protect the dustjacket/cover from scratches and dents.

The dish I am baking today is a flan A Rhubarb Cartwheel Flan, the recipe comes from the Marguerite Patten book, Fruit and Vegetable Cookery, which was in the pile of books that came from my old friend's house.
The pastry recipe comes from May Byron's book  'Pot Luck' and is an Eighteenth century recipe.

To Make Crisp Paste for Tarts

"Take one pound of fine flour, mixed with one ounce of sifted sugar, make it into a stiff paste, with a gill of boiling cream and three ounces of butter; work it well, and roll it very thin.    When you have made your tarts beat the white of an egg a little, rub it over them with a feather, sift a little sugar over them, and bake in a moderate oven."

I have never made pastry with boiling cream before - and there could be a good reason for that, but unless I try it out, how will I know whether it really works?     I suppose it is like a sweet version of hot water crust pastry - which I have never made - but I'm happy to give it a go.

I sieved the flour and sugar (I used icing sugar) together and then gently melted the butter into the cream and brought them to the boil before pouring them into a well in the middle of the flour and mixing them altogether with a  wooden spoon.

Although I kneaded it well,  I probably should have kneaded it a little more and I should definitely have rolled the dough out much thinner before lining a flan dish.

Bake it blind until it is golden and crisp.

Rhubarb Cartwheel Flan 

12 oz rhubarb
4 oz granulated sugar
1/2 pint water

Wash the rhubarb well, trim the ends and cut into 2 1/2-inch pieces.     Dissolve the sugar in water in a large saucepan, bring to the boil and add the rhubarb.   Cook gently, just under boiling point, until tender for about 10 minutes.     When cooked, drain off the juice and allow to cool.   Keep 6 of the strips, cut the others in half and put in the flan case.   Set aside.

Ginger Sauce:

1 round dessertspoon cornflour
1/4 heaped teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 pint milk
1 level tablespoon castor sugar

Blend the cornflour and ginger with 1 tablespoon milk.   Put the remaining milk in a small saucepan and bring to the boil.   Pour on to the blended cornflour, stir well, return to the saucepan and simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring all the time.   Add the sugar and when cool, cover the rhubarb in the flan.  Arrange the 6  strips of rhubarb on the top to resemble the spokes of a wheel.

This is what I ended up with.

Just as well I am not a wheelwright!    
It was much nicer than it looks.   Rhubarb and ginger is a classic flavour combination with good reason.

The pastry was too thick, but strong and crisp, perfect for a flan, definitely no soggy bottom!

As you can see, the ginger sauce was a little bit thin and runny (in my opinion) for a flan although it tasted very good and Max ate two large slices straight away - bang goes that diet!

Despite the runny ginger sauce the pastry case remained strong and crisp, by the way.

I made the flan a second time, substituting a really thick egg custard sauce this time, which I had flavoured with plenty of ground ginger.    Success!  Though I still made the pastry too thick.  Could do better, and must try harder!

Nope, that is not a sausage on the top of the flan, it really is a slice of  pink and tender rhubarb.
I just take rubbish photographs, the flan tasted delicious!

I made an egg custard sauce, making it thicker than I would normally, and flavouring it with ground ginger.       Max was an even happier man.    

So, in conclusion, the original recipe was fine, but the thicker, ginger custard/sauce was much nicer - in our opinion, which is now making me think that I could use ginger to flavour the custard in the next rhubarb and custard cake that I make...

Watch this space!


  1. A rhubarb forcer? Ye gods and little fishes. Looks odd but obviously does the trick. Did you have a clean feather on hand to spread the egg white over the pastry?

  2. Hello Linda - It sounds awful, doesn't it! It just helps to protect the rhubarb and bring it on early, keeping the skin thin and allowing it to retain a beautiful pink colour. My daughter bought the pot for me, she knew I'd always wanted one but balked at the price!
    No luck with the feather so I ignored that instruction! The flan base was still nice and crisp the next day, so the recipe works.

  3. No sign of life under my Rhubarb forcer; I'm wondering if it has died.

  4. Hello Cro, That is a shame. I would have been happy to share.