For a while now The Tiltyard Cafe at Hampton Court have been selling Maids of Honour. They are advertised as a traditional 16th century tart and as being named after Anne Boleyn and eaten by her husband Henry VIII. The individual tarts cost £3.75 each and when members of the BPWalkers group are lining up to buy our tea or coffee, mutterings can be heard, admittedly mainly from yours truly, that you could buy a whole large cake for that price at the excellent weekly Saturday Morning Coffee Mornings at Teddington Methodist Church!
This week a new sign appeared next to the tarts claiming that, amongst other more likely ingredients, they contain mash potato (sic).
Now this immediately set alarm bells ringing as a quick google search revealed that the potato was only brought to the UK from its native South America in 1589. Legend has it that Sir Walter Raleigh made a gift of the potato plant to Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603). It took quite a while after that before it fully caught on as, without social media, there was no chance of the modest tuber going viral overnight.
So Henry VIII, being Elizabeth’s dad, couldn’t really have eaten a traditional Maid of Honour containing mashed potato, as it says on the Hampton Court advertising boards, could he? And it seems like a long time after the death of Anne, who lost her head in 1536, for the spud filled tart to be given her name!
I’m sure all of this has nothing to do with Hampton Court earning a tart crust by providing traditional fare at well baked prices for the tourists who visit!
After further googling, following tip offs from the knowledgeable members of BPWalkers, I have discovered that there is a pastry shop/cafe in Kew called The Original Maid of Honour. ( I really feel that in the interests of research a BPWalkers visit to Kew is in order!) They also state that the tarts are named after Anne and even go as far as to claim that the recipe was discovered by good old Henry himself. Sadly they remain tight lipped on matters of mash as their recipe is top secret. Rather pleasingly they are bang up to date when it comes to modern technology and online shopping and you can order the tarts here.
A while back I decided to try making the tarts myself using a non traditional method containing no mashed potato! Here is the recipe I used.
Recipe for Maids of Honour
- 1 recipe pastry for a 23cm pie
- 4 tablespoons raspberry jam
- 60g butter, softened
- 4 tablespoons caster sugar
- 1 egg
- 60g (2 1/2 oz) plain flour
- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
- 2 teaspoons icing sugar for dusting
Prep:20min › Cook:20min › Ready in:40min
- Move oven rack to bottom position and preheat oven to 190 C (gas 5). Lightly grease 12 (5cm) tart tins.
- Roll out pastry and cut 12 (8cm) circles. Fit one pastry circle into each tart tin. Spread one teaspoon of raspberry jam into the bottom of each pastry case.
- In a medium mixing bowl, cream together softened butter and caster sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in egg. Add flour, baking powder and almond extract and mix until all ingredients are thoroughly combined. Pour 1 tablespoon of batter into each pastry case.
- Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes, until risen and firm. Dust tarts with icing sugar.
Recipe from allrecipes where they use potato appropriately.
Post Script I have just come across an interesting article which might explain the mystery! Could it have been sweet potato that was used in the recipe? http://blog.hrp.org.uk/gardeners/history-of-sweet-potato/