Mary Smith, on Making ‘White Caps’

Put three quarters of a pound of flour in a bowl, make it into a paste with a quarter of a pound of butter boiled in a little water, – divide the paste into four pieces, and roll it out thin. Take four large stewed pears, put one into each sheet of paste, close them up neatly, put them into a baking-pan, and bake them in a moderate oven. When done, take them out, and ice them the same was as you do a fruit cake; dry them in an oven, and serve them up for a second course or for supper.

Mary Smith (of Newcastle) The Complete House-keeper, and Professed Cook (1772)

I recently posted Henry Howard’s seventeenth century recipe, plus a couple of later variations, for ‘Black Caps‘ (apples baked in wine and sugar until the tops are slightly scorched) and Elizabeth Raffald’s eighteenth century recipe for ‘Green Caps‘ (baked, sugar-frosted, under-ripe codlins) and, to round out the trilogy for the week, here we have Mary Smith’s recipe for ‘White Caps’.

‘Paste’ is, of course, an earlier word for pastry, so this recipe is for some kind of iced pear tart. Actually, it’s probably not a tart per se, is it? But I don’t eat a lot of pastry due to gluten problems, so I’m unfamiliar with the term for encasing something in pastry before baking. It’s clearly not a pie. A pear pasty? Pear en croute?

The addition of the icing is a nice touch, and here are Mary Smith’s notes on icing from elsewhere in the same volume, for reference:

When you make icing for a cake, you must put some gum dragon into rose water the night before you want it, that it may dissolve:- it makes the icing white and thick, and stic1k better on the cake.

‘Gum dragon’ is more commonly known as Tragacanth; “a natural gum obtained from the dried sap of several species of middle eastern legumes of the genus Astralagus“, according to Wikipedia. Well, there you go. Every day’s a school day.

Also, it’s interesting to note that Mary Smith recommends serving this dish as “a second course or for supper“. This just goes to show that the modern tradition of only eating a sweet dish like this one a at the end of the meal wasn’t always the norm. It does seem weirdly unthinkable today though: would you have soup, then an iced pear tart, then steak and chips? Very probably not.

Anyway, if you like the sound of these iced pear pastries and want to try making your own ‘White Caps’, please do email me with your notes and photos, or leave a comment at the end of this post to let me know how you get on. I’d love to hear about the results.

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