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Shakespeare & Beyond

Taffety Tarts: How Folger manuscript recipes helped a 17th-century pastry make it into the Oxford English Dictionary

Taffety tarts
Taffety tarts
Taffety tarts

Iced tarts in shortcrust pastry and puff pastry tarts without icing from manuscript recipes in the Folger collection (V.a. 19). Courtesy of Mary-Anne Boermans

Food historian and The Great British Baking Show winner Mary-Anne Boermans writes about piecing together 17th-century manuscript recipes for Taffety Tarts and shares her own recipe adaptation.

My passion for many years has been traditional British recipes and, for the last decade or so, those recipes appearing in handwritten household manuscripts: recipes that were recorded and passed on and passed down through families and friends. These recipes are now appearing online, thanks to the wonder of the internet, as institutions such as libraries and record offices embark on ambitious digitizing programs that both make their holdings available to a much wider audience and help to preserve them from damage through overuse.

I read a lot of old recipes; over the years it has totaled hundreds of manuscripts and tens of thousands of recipes, and if there’s something I’ve had confirmed to me as a result, it’s that there’s pretty much nothing new under the sun. In the UK, we’ve only been recording recipes for just over 600 years and, for the most part, if, as a cook, you think up what you believe is a new recipe combination, chances are someone, somewhere, has done it before and written it down — and eventually it will turn up. So, while I’m reading these manuscripts, if something catches my eye and causes me to highlight a recipe in my notes, it has to be something out of the ordinary.

So it is with Taffety Tarts. I first read a recipe for them in a manuscript in the Wellcome Collection: ‘Interesting’, I thought, ‘unusual name. I’ll come back to this one later.’ I made a note and moved on. Then I came across a second recipe, and then a third. Before long I had thirteen recipes across multiple manuscripts, decades, and, to be honest, spellings. Capricious orthography aside, this many recipes indicated that they were very much a ‘thing’ in seventeenth-century food fashion. Trying to define what exactly this ‘thing’ was, however, was more complicated than I first imagined.


Thank you for these recipes! -I look forward to trying them tomorrow. I can hardly wait ’til then!!

Mrs Stein — April 3, 2019

This article was so interesting! I plan to make Taffety Tarts.

Sarann — April 21, 2019

Making these right now for a Milton project my son is doing virtually for college. He is planning a 12 course banquet of 17c English foods around the theme of Paradise Lost. Lots of apples!!

Leslie — May 5, 2021