A Renaissance recipe for citrus tarts

Citrus tartsFood historian Francine Segan has a taste for the Renaissance and a love of Shakespeare. In this excerpt from her 2003 cookbook Shakespeare’s Kitchen, she takes a recipe for “Citron pye” from a 1587 cookbook and adapts it for the modern cook. You’ll find an intense combination of flavors in these citrus tarts.

⇒ Related: Q&A with Francine Segan about adapting Renaissance recipes, plus a recipe for “pears” in broth

⇒ Related: Shakespeare Unlimited podcast with Wendy Wall: The Food of Shakespeare’s World

Citrus Tarts

Serves 6

Here’s the challenge, read it: I warrant there’s vinegar and pepper in’t.

Twelfth Night, Act 3, Scene 4

I doubt your guests will guess that these refreshing tarts contain both pepper and vinegar, two flavors not ordinarily associated with dessert. Peppercorns, popular since the time of ancient Greece and Rome, were often included in sweet dishes in Shakespeare’s day. In Medieval times this valuable spice was traded as money.  “Peppercorn rent”, a legal term for a symbolic or nominal payment, is still used in England today. -Francine Segan

Original recipe: To bake a Citron pye

Take your Citrone, pare it and slice it in peeces, and boyle it with grose Pepper and Ginger, and so laye it in your Paste with Butter, and when it is almost baked, put thereto Vineger, Butter, and Sugar, and let it stande in the Oven a while and soke.

The Good Husewifes Jewell, 1587


4 large naval oranges

3 lemons

2 tablespoon butter

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground 5-color peppercorns

3 teaspoons fresh ginger, minced

3 tablespoons sugar

1/2 cup white wine

2 tablespoons verjus

1 tablespoon honey

15 ready-made tiny phyllo tart shells, (1 inch diameter)


Using a vegetable peeler, cut the peel from the oranges and lemons, removing any of the white pith. Soak the peels for 10 minutes in cold water. Drain and coarsely chop the peels.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the peels, pepper, ginger, sugar, and wine, and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature and stir in the verjus and honey.

Spoon the filling into the tart shells and serve.


One Comment

  • Unless those oranges are on the high seas, you meant “navel” oranges. Naval refers to the navy. Spellcheck won’t catch everything!

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