Raspberries are indigenous to Asia Minor and North America. The Aboriginals of North America had been consuming berries as a part of their diet long before the first settlers arrived. It is believed that Romans introduced the fruit to Britain, as there is evidence of domestication and seeds were found at the sites of old Roman forts. By the Middle Ages, raspberries were used as both a food and a utilitarian object, useful for its color and in medicine. It is though that King Edward I (reigned 1272 - 1307) was the first to encourage the cultivation of berries, so that by the seventeenth century gardens commonly contained bushes of berries. By the eighteenth century the cultivation of berries had spread throughout Europe. While emigrants to the Americas brought berry plants with them, they were also able to gather from the wild species which were already being used by the Aboriginals. According to Catharine Parr Strickland Traill, author of The Female Emigrant's Guide,
This fruit is most abundant in Canada where a clearing has once been made. The birds sow the seeds. The raspberry seems to follow the steps of the settler, and springs up in his path as if to supply the fruit which is so needful to his health and comfort. Ripening in July, the raspberry affords a constant and daily supply for his table till the beginning of September...A dish of raspberries and milk, with sugar, or a pie, gives many an emigrant family a supper.
In another of Traill's books, The Backwoods of Canada, she wrote,
I mean to cultivate some of the native fruits and flowers, which, I am sure, will improve greatly by culture. The strawberries that grow wild in our pastures, woods, and clearings, are several varieties, and bear abundantly. They make excellent preserves, and I mean to introduce beds of them to my garden. There is a pretty little wooded islet on our lake, that is called Strawberry Island, another Raspberry Island; they abound in a variety of fruits - wild grapes, raspberries, strawberries, black and red currants, a wild gooseberry...
It is apparent that settlers used berries for a variety of dishes. The cookbook from which today's recipe is taken, The Cook Not Mad, includes recipes for Currant Pie, Raspberry Tarts With Cream, Currant and Raspberry Tarts, Cranberries, Gooseberry Tarts, Grapes, Raspberry Jam, Strawberry Preserve, Currant Jelly, and preserving strawberries, currants, cherries, gooseberries, raspberries, and currants.
No. 69. Currant and Raspberry Tarts.
For a tart, line the dish, put in sugar and fruit, lay bars across and bake
....SIX RECEIPTS FOR MAKING
No. 105 Puff paste for Tarts.
No. 3. To any quantity of flour, rub in three fourths of its weight of butter, whites of eggs if a large quantity of flour, rub in one third or half of the butter, and roll in the rest.
Despite the slightly laborious process of making the puff paste, this is an extremely simple recipe, both in method and in taste. It was not very sweet at all, but that didn't make it unpleasant. The pastry was good, but a little plain. It might have benefited from a little sugar and/or spice. The filling was fine - I liked that the simplicity allowed the full taste of the berries to shine through. They don't need anything extra. The one thing was that I should have used some cornstarch, as my frozen berries let off too much juice while baking and flooded the crust a bit.
(Adapted from The Cook Not Mad and Allrecipes)
First, consider how large of a tart you want to make. I decided to make one in my 9-inch pie pan, but I ended up with dough for about 1 1/2 of those (I used 2 cups of flour). I used puff paste recipe number 3. Alternatively, you can just buy prepared puff paste at the grocery store.
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 of the weight of the flour in unsalted butter, divided
1 egg white
water, if needed
1 tablespoon sugar (optional. not in the recipe, but the crust is a little bland)
~2 - 3 cups raspberries (if using frozen, coat with a little cornstarch to soak up the extra juice)
sugar, for the raspberries, to taste (I used around 1/3 cup)
1. Divide the butter into half. Add half of the butter to the flour and rub together until it is well-combined and crumbly. You can use your hands, two knives, a pastry blender, or a food processor. If the dough won't stick together, add the egg white and water. If it is a little wet, that's okay, as it will be rolled out with lots of flour later.
2. Roll out the other half of butter between two sheets of plastic wrap until it is a thin disk. Set in the fridge for about 20 minutes to harden.
3. Lightly flour your work surface and roll out the dough into a large rectangle about 1/2-inch thick. Place the hardened butter disc in the center and fold the two ends of the dough over it, so that it is completely encased.
4. Roll out the dough, being careful not to let the butter break through. Fold the rectangle into thirds (like a letter), rotate 90 degrees, and roll out into a rectangle again.
5. Cover the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to let the butter harden again. Repeat step 4, refrigerating after every 2 turns. Do a total of 6 turns.
6. Let the finished puff pastry dough set in the fridge while the filling is prepared. In a mixing bowl, gently stir together the raspberries, sugar, and cornstarch (if using).
7. Preheat the oven to 400F. On the floured work surface, roll out the dough. Trace around your tart dish and cut the dough to fit. Carefully place it in the dish, trimming or adding dough as necessary. Roll out the remainder of the dough and cut vertical strips. Add the raspberries to the dish and cover with weaved strips of dough.
8. Bake for about 20 - 30 minutes. Let cool before slicing.
Kittler, Pamela Goyan and Kathryn P. Sucher and Marcia Nahikian Nelms. Food and Culture. 6th Edition. Belmont, California: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2012.
The Cook Not Mad; or, Rational cookery: Being a collection of original and selected receipts, Embracing not only the art of curing various kinds of Meats and Vegetables for future use, but of Cooking, in its general acceptation, to the taste, habits, and degrees of luxury prevalent with the Canadian public, to which are added, directions for preparing comforts for the sick room, together with sundry miscellaneous kinds of information of importance to housekeepers in general, nearly all tested by experience. Kingston, Upper Canada: James Macfarlane, 1831.
Traill, Catharine Parr Strickland. The Backwoods of Canada: Being Letters From the Wife of an Emigrant Officer, Illustrative of the Domestic Economy of British America. London: Charles Knight, 1836.
Traill, Catharine Parr Strickland. The Female Emigrant's Guide, And Hints on Canadian Housekeeping. Toronto, Canada West: Maclear and Company, 1855.
Washington Red Raspberry Commission. "A Brief History of Red Raspberries." Accessed March 27, 2013. http://www.red-raspberry.org/history.asp.