Robert May’s 1665 Recipe for ‘Warden or Pear Tart’

“Take twenty good wardens, pare them, and cut them in a tart, and put to them two pound of refined sugar, twenty whole cloves, a quarter of an ounce of cinamon broke into little bits, and three races of ginger pared and slic’t thin ; then close up the tart and bake it, it will ask five hours baking, then ice it with a quarter of a pound of double refined sugar, rose-water, and butter.”

Robert May, The Accomplisht Cook: Or, the Art and Mystery of Cookery (1665)

“Wardens” are a class of cooking pear that was hugely popular from the middle ages through to about the nineteenth century, mainly because they kept amazingly well and were very versatile cookers.

Popular received wisdom and/or folklore would have it that the pears are named for Warden Abbey in Bedfordshire. However, although they did, and still do, grow warden pears at Warden Abbey, it’s far more likely that the term “warden” comes from the Anglo-Saxon word weardian, meaning to ward, to guard, or to keep. The Original Warden Pear by Margaret Roberts explains everything, as I mentioned a while ago.

Back to the warden tart recipe at hand. It’s all pretty simple, although the sheer volume of the ingredients suggests the end result is a pie that’s big enough to feed an entire household. You might want to scale things down accordingly. Or go ahead and make one big enough to feed an entire household. Your call.

Start with twenty good warden pears. These days you might be hard-pressed to find a proper, warden-style cooking pear, but the ‘Black Pear of Worcester’, a.k.a. ‘Worcester Black’, a.k.a. ‘Black Worcester’ is still grown, if you know where to look for it. Other cooking pears, such as ‘Double de Guerre’, should do nicely as well.

Peel the pears and slice them into a pastry tart case. Which I assume would be a shortcrust pastry, blind-baked beforehand in the usual manner? I say the usual manner, but I haven’t baked or eaten pastry for years1Gluten issues…, so I’m going to assume you either know the score already or can do the research and find a suitable method to follow.

Spices are added – I’d have to leave out the cloves as I’m not a fan, so I’d probably used a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg and mace to complement the sliced ginger root – along with a hefty amount of refined sugar: two pounds, or around 900g of the stuff for the full-size version. Then of course the tart needs to be baked. Five hours, says Robert May, but bear in mind he’s working with a C17th brick oven, so modern gas or electric appliances will differ greatly. You’d better seek advice on that one as well.

Tell you what, why not take a look at Brigitte Webster’s Spiced Pear Pie recipe instead. That’s a much easier-to-follow, modern take on a similarly delicious-sounding pear pie, albeit based on a slightly earlier recipe. Brigitte – whose new book, Eating With the Tudors: Food and Recipes would make an excellent addition to any historical food library – has certainly explained everything far better than I seem to be doing. You’re welcome.

How about you? Do you like the sound of Robert May’s take on a classic pear tart? Or do you prefer Brigitte’s modern-day version? Or do you have your own method, spice-blend, or a hot-tip on where to source some warden pears? Please do let me know if so, via the comments.


  • 1
    Gluten issues…

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