Chaucer's Sweet Garlic and Herb Tart

The medicinal and fortifying qualities of garlic were recognised by the Greeks and Romans but it became regarded as food for the poor - for those whose work was heavy or for those who were sick. It was shunned by the wealthy - perhaps for the obvious negative effect it had on close physical relationships. Horace, the Roman poet, thought it 'more harmful than hemlock . . . [it] could drive one's lover to refuse to kiss and to retreat to the far side of the bed'. The British, although cautious about its use, were aware of its values and Andrew Boorde, writing in the sixteenth century, states that 'it doth kyll all manner of wormes in a mans bely'.
Now that garlic haters are on the wane and garlic bread and curries are daily fare, timid cooks are willing to include more than just the odd clove. This tart is based on the reference by Chaucer to garlic in his prologue to The Canterbury Tales.


serves 4 - 6
175 g (6 oz) plain shortcrust pastry
12 large cloves garlic (unpeeled)
2 tablespoons olive oil, for frying
2 large onions, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon light soft brown sugar
25 g (1 oz) butter
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
1/4 teaspoon mace
300 ml (1/2 pint) double cream
1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten (just enough to mix)
salt and freshly ground black pepper


1. Line a shallow 23 cm (9 in) tart tin with the pastry and pre-bake or bake blind. Pre-heat the oven to 190°C (375°F) Gas 5 and place a baking sheet in the oven to get hot.

2. Put the unpeeled cloves of garlic in a pan of boiling water and boil gently for about 10 minutes, or until the garlic can easily be pierced with a fork. Drain the garlic and squeeze the insides of the cloves from their skins. Set aside.

3. In a heavy-bottomed frying pan, heat the olive oil, add the onion and fry gently until soft and golden, stirring occasionally. Add the sugar, cover with a lid if possible and remove the pan from the heat.

4. Melt the butter in a saucepan, add all the herbs and swill around for 1 minute. Transfer to a large bowl, add the garlic cloves and mash to a pulp.

5. Add the mace, cream, egg and egg yolk, then season with salt and black pepper and mix well, making sure that the garlic and herb pulp is distributed evenly through the cream.

6. Transfer the mixture to the pre-baked pastry case and place in the oven on the baking sheet. Bake for about 30 minutes or until golden and set.

7. Serve warm or at room temperature with a mixed green leaf and goat's cheese salad.

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