Pieter Cornelisz. Hooft and Plum Pie

A delicious Dutch pie from the seventeenth century

The Muiderslot in 1617 with a portait of Pieter Cornelisz Hooft (adapted from Mierevelt, 1629)Summer is plum season. In Dutch the expression tot in de pruimentijd  (litterally 'see you in the plum season') has a special meaning: 'Until we meet again, whenever that may be'. This expression is commonly ascribed to Pieter Cornelisz. Hooft (1581-1647), but there are some reservations. It seems he used 'plum season' literally. In 1643, Hooft wrote a letter to his nephew in The Hague, inviting him and his family to his home, the Muiderslot "teeghens den pruimtijdt, die voorhanden is" (around the plum season, which is about to begin). The current meaning of the expression tot in de pruimentijd could be as recent as the beginning of the twentieth century. The oldest mention of it in the large Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal dates from this period.

Who was Hooft?
Pieter Corneliszoon Hooft was one of the great writers of the Dutch Golden Age. He was also a bailiff and resided at the castle Muiderslot. It is very probable that Hooft meant the actual plum season in his letters. The grounds within the castle's walls conbtained a flower garden, a kitchen garden and an orchard planted with plum trees and other fruit trees. The picture above depicts the Muiderslot as it was in 1617 (by Claes Jansz. Visscher). In the middle of the orchard a cannon stands guard (click on the picture for the enlarged detail). In 2007 this orchard was reconstructed with several historical plum varieties. The man in the picture is , as depicted in a portrait (1629) by Michel van Mierevelt. The Muiderslot is open for tourists; it is located slightly East of Amsterdam.

Plum in the orchard at the MuiderslotDuring my search for a recipe from the plum season I consulted the Verstandige Kok (Sensible Cook). This is just about the only cookbook that was printed in the Netherlands during the Golden Age. There are some handwritten cookbooks from this period that have not (yet) been published, and several books on garden design and gardening that also include some culinary recipes. The Verstandige Kok was also originally attached to a publication on the design and maintenance of country estates. The first edition of this cookery book dates from 1667, twenty years after Hooft had died. But there is no doubt part of the plum harvest at the Muiderslot must have been turned into pies and tarts!
Other recipes from the verstandige Kok: Chicken with spring vegetables, Stuffed meat balls in lettuce and Garden salad.
The plum on the right was photographed in the orchard of the Muiderslot, on 17 July 2014.

Plums: healthy or not?
Duing the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, prunes (dried plums) were considered better for one's health than fresh plums. People were discouraged from consuming uncooked plums, as that was thought to be bad for your health. You can read the opinions of several authors on the properties of plums and prunes below.

The Dutch adaptation of Noël Chomel's Dictionnaire Oeconomique, the Huishoudelyk Woordboek, by Jan Lodewyk Schuer and A.H. Westerhof (1743, see bibliography) mentions over sixty varieties of plums. According to this book, most Dutch people preferred the enkelde witte Boere Pruim (single farmer's white plum), but the authors themselves consider the Konfytkroos (confit damson) "de smaaklykste en beste van alle Pruimen" (the tastiest and best plum of all). According to humoral pathology, all plums have a cold and wet nature. Sweet plums open the bowels, but sour ones cause constipation. Plums can be eaten fresh from July until the end of October, but during bad summers plums will not ripen until September. The French author Chomel considers Damsons the best plums (the edition from 1732). Plums were consumed raw, but also simmered, cooked, candied or dried.

The English adaptation of Chomel by R. Bradley from 1725 praised the Syrian Damson when dried as well as fresh. And, although "it would be endless to enumerate the several sorts of Plum-Trees [...]", he then continues by describing several plums and recipes for processing the harvest. He recommends the "Red Imperial, White Holland, Black Muscle, White Pear plum [and] Pomgranet" plums for baking and preserving.

Plums, illustration from 'Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon', early 20th centuryAnother work describing the properties of plums is the Nieuwe Verstandige Hovenier (the sensible gardener) by P. Nyland. This work, together with the  Nederlandschen Hovenier (the Dutch gardener) and the Verstandige Kok (since 1669), formed the Vermakelyck Landt-leven (the enjoyable country life). According to Nyland, plums quench one's thirst, soothe bile, and are easily digested. But he does note that it is best to avoid all uncooked white and yellow plums. Eating blue plums is dangerous during the plague (in the seventeenth century there were several outbreaks of the plague in the Netherlands) because of their hot nature. But prunes are always good for you, be you healthy or ill, because they "houden het Lichaam ontslooten (Keep the body open)" - edition used 1673.

An eighteenth-century source is Johann Hermann Knoop (1700-1769), of German origin, who had been horticulturist of the mother of stadholder Willem IV. He mentions about fifty different plums and varieties in his Fructulogia (1763), one of which bears the intriguing name Hane-kloten (cock's testicles) or Rognon de Coq. Knoop too praises the enkele boerewitte (single farmer's white) as the tastiest of all indigenous plums. But beware; it is also one of the least healthy plums to eat uncooked. They cause "Buik-krimpingen, Buik- en Rode Loop" (cramps in the belly, and ordinary and red diarrhoea). The Quets (also 'damson') is the best plum to be eaten raw. However, this variety does not mature well in the Netherlands. According to Knoop, plums are mostly dried in France and Germany, in baker's ovens or a special drying oven. Stewed prunes are "een aangename Spyze" (a pleasant dish), especially for ill patients. So expect a recipe with prunes on this site in a short while.
Knoop's Fructulogia contains one illustration with three varieties of plums, white, blue and damson. On the left an illustration from an early twentieth-century edition of Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon with much more varieties.

The original recipe
From the first edition of the Verstandige Kock (1667), p.18. The recipe for dough is on page 17. The 1669 edition has no page numbers, but the recipes for dough and pie are on respectively page 28 and 30 (just count the pages yourself).
The difference between the two editions in this recipe is minimal: just one extra letter. Where the dough recipe in 1667 mentions 'Booter', the 1669 version has 'Boter' (butter). But taken as a whole, the editions are not the same: recipes have been deleted, added or rearranged.

Om een Pruyme-taert te maken
Neemt Pruymen, koocktse murruw, doetse door een Teems, stoffeertse met doren van Eyeren, Suycker en Caneel, Nagelen en gesmolte Boter, doetse in u korst, backtse sonder schil, dan Caneel daer over gestroyt.
To make a plum tart (or pie).
Take plums, cook them [until] soft, strain them. Add egg yolks, sugar and cinnamon, cloves and melted butter. Put [this stuffing] in your crust, bake them without cover, then cinnamon sprinkled over it.
Om Deegh te maken tot Taerten
Neemt Terwen-Meel, Booter, Rooswater, Suycker, ende een weynigh Eyeren van yeder na behooren.
To make dough fort pies.
Take wheat flour, butter, rosewater, sugar and some eggs, from each according to need.

Modern adaptation of the recipe
Serve this pie without telling your guests that the recipe you used is from the seventeenth century. No one will suspect that this was already eaten more than 350 years ago. The recipe is timeless.
Sweet pastry for 6 to 8 persons; Preparation in advance 20 minutes + preparing the dough; Preparation 1 hour.

A slice of plum pie, and the spices from the recipeIngredients
450 gram/1 pound sweet pastry dough (see recipe below)
1 kilo/2 pounds plums
60 gram (4 Tbsp.) sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon powder
1/2 tsp. clove powder
2 Tbsp. butter
2 egg yolks

Preparation in advance
Halve the rinsed plums, and remove the stone. Cook the plums for about twenty minutes in little water. Drain them, but not completely. Some liquid must remain. Mash the plums in a blender or using a passe-vite. Temper with sugar, cinnamon, clove and butter.
Beat the yolks with one spoonful of the mashed plums. Add another spoonful when the first is absorbed, and continue until the yolk mixture has about the same temperature as the stuffing. Then stir the yolks through the remaining mashed plums.

Grease a mould with butter. Roll out the dough and dress the mould with it.
If you want to, first bake the pie blind in the oven on 220 dgC/430 dgF. Otherwise the moisture in the stuffing may cause the bottom to become soggy.
Fill the prebaked pie with the stuffing. Bake in the center of the oven. First ten minutes at 220 dgC/430dgF, then twenty to thirty minutes (depending on your oven) at 200 dgC/390 dgF.

To serve
Tepid or at room temperature this pie tastes excellent. But it is also quite good when completely cooled. You can optionally sprinkle cinnamon on top and serve the plum pie with whipped cream.

Modern version
Nowadays we like to recognize the fruit in the pie. So, make the pie as described above, but put a ring of in light sugar syrup poached and thoroughly drained halved plums on top.

Sweet pastry dough
For about 450 gram or 1 pound dough.

250 gram flour
65 gram butter
2 to 3 Tbsp. sugar
1 egg
65 cc water (4 Tbsp. + 1 tsp.)
1 Tbsp. rosewater

Mix flour and sugar (and optionally some salt). Ada flakes of butter. Beat egg with water and rosewater and add to the mixture. Knead until you got a neat ball of dough. If the dough is crumbly, add a little water. If it is sticky, knead in some extra flour.
Keep in the refrigerator until use.

This dough can be frozen. First flatten the ball of dough; otherwise it will take too long for the centre to freeze and thaw. Also, take care to wrap your dough very carefully. I use several layers of plastic foil. When you want to use frozen dough, let it thaw completely in the refrigerator.

All descriptions of ingredients

Plum - Plums are drupes, like apricots and peaches. There are two 'versions': fresh plums, and dried prunes. Confusingly enough, the French call fresh plums prunes, and dried ones pruneaux. The famous plum pudding on the other hand is prepared not with fresh fruit but with dried prunes. In Dutch, it is simple. A plum is a pruim, and a prune is een gedroogde pruim.
Rose water - This is indeed water that is perfumed with rose petals. In the modern Western cuisine its use is obsolete (except in e.g. marzipan), but during the Middle Ages and Renaissance it was a popular condiment (as was orange blossom water). In the Middle-East and India rose water is still in use.

The editions below are in my possession. Links refer to available editions.
All books mentioned on this site (with short reviews)

  • Noel Chomel, Dictionnaire OEconomique [...]. First edition 1709, third edition from 1732 (revised by P. Danjou), 'new' edition 1767 (revised by M. de la Marre).
  • Noel Chomel, Huishoudelyk woordboek, vervattende vele middelen om zyn goed te vermeerderen en zyne gezondheid te behouden, Met verscheide wisse en beproefde middelen. Translated and adapted by Jan Lodweyk Schuer en A.H. Westerhof. Leiden/Amsterdam, 1743. Online edition dbnl.
  • De verstandige kock, of sorghvuldige huys-houdster. Facsimile edition with introduction by Joop Witteveen. De KAN, Amsterdam, 1993
  • De verstandige kok Modernized edition by Marleen Willebrands. Uitgeverij Pereboom, Bussum, 2006. Review. (Dutch)
  • P. Nyland, De Nieuwe Verstandigen Hovenier, Over de twaelf Maenden van 't Jaer. Zijnde het II Deel van het Vermakelyck Landt-Leven. Amsterdam, 1673.
  • Johann Hermann Knoop, Fructulogia [...]. Leeuwarden, 1763. Online facsimile