Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Fall in Love with a Benjamin Franklin Era Cranberry Pie

We're used to cranberries commonly filling a tasty, tart relishing niche at holiday tables.  For Benjamin Franklin and his London friends the classic American berry, largely unknown in England, brought a bit of Colonial tartness to the dessert tray. This easily made pie will delight your guests as well.

Benjamin Franklin would spend nearly two decades in London in the years before the American Revolution. While there he rented rooms from widow Mrs. Margaret Stevenson and her daughter Polly. They became a surrogate family and grew close to Benjamin's wife Deborah and daughter Sally back home in Philadelphia. Goods were shipped back and forth across the Atlantic. Fine fabrics, clothing, and household goods from London for the Franklin women and special homemade treats for Benjamin and the Stevensons.  Deborah sent smoked venison, Philadelphia biscuits, barrels of apples and cranberries which were enjoyed by all. The Stevenson English kitchen had never seen cranberries and was quite taken by the tart richness of this native American fruit.

Benjamin Franklin was awarded an honorary doctorate of letters by the
University of St. Andrews in Scotland in 1759. With the
recognition came the title of "Dr. Franklin."

As agent for Pennsylvania Franklin lobbied for colonial interests.  He also met with scientists and philosophers with whom he had corresponded for years. His company was widely sought and he spent many an evening in social and scientific clubs.

This cranberry tart is among several Franklin's London-era recipes in Stirring the Pot with Benjamin Franklin Chapter 9 Relishing the Best of Both Worlds -- British Culture, American Ingredients and Chapter 10- Becoming an American Revolutionary in London--Studying the World and Longing for the Essential Taste of Home.  

Cranberry Tarts

One 12- to 16-ounce package fresh cranberries
1 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1 recipe Basic Short Pie Crust (follows)

Make the Cranberry Filling:
Wash and pick over cranberries. Combine them with brown sugar, lemon juice, and water in a 2-quart saucepan. Cook over medium hear, stirring constantly, until the berries burst, about 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in cinnamon and cloves. Set aside to cool.

Make the Pie Crust:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter
4 to 6 tablespoons ice cold water

Put the flour into a medium mixing bowl. Cut the butter into small bits and then use a pastry cutter or two knives in a "crisscross" action to cut the butter into the flour so that the mixture looks like dry oatmeal. Sprinkle 4 tablespoons of the water over the mixture and stir with a fork to combine into a ball of dough that just sticks together. If the mixture is too dry add additional cold water a little at a time.

To make the Cranberry Tarts:
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Roll the dough out on a well-floured surface to 1/8-inch thick. Cut into circles large enough to fit into and up the sides of your muffin tins. For my standard tin with cups about 2 1/2-inches across I cut circles 4 inches in diameter. Spoon the cooled cranberry filling into the pastry-lined cups. Leave room at the top for the filing to bubble up as it cooks. Bake until the crust is browned, about 20 minutes.

Makes 10 tarts, each about 2 1/2 inches in diameter and 1-inch deep.  Or filling will make an 8-inch pie baked at 425 degrees F. for 15 minutes and then at 350 degrees F. for an additional 20 to 30 minutes.

Adapted from "Cranberry Tart," Mrs. Margaret Dods, The Cook and Housewife's Manuel, 1828.

Franklin image from the US Capitol painted by Capitol artist Constantino Brumidi.

Copyright 2107 Rae Katherine Eighmey. All rights reserved. 

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