May 1st, often called May Day, just might have more holidays than any other day of the year. It’s a celebration of Spring. It’s a day of political protests. It’s a neopagan festival, a saint’s feast day, and a day for organized labor. In many countries, it is a national holiday. When I think of May Day, I think of cheese tarts and Maypoles:
Bringing in the May
May Day is a day that in medieval England, people would celebrate the start of spring by going out to the country or woods — “going a-maying”—and gathering greenery and flowers, or “bringing in the may.”
Another English tradition is the Maypole. Some towns had permanent maypoles that would stay up all year; others put up a new one each May. In any event, the pole would be hung with greenery and ribbons, brightly painted, and otherwise decorated, and served as a central point for the festivities.
May Day was also a time for morris dancing and other dances, often around the Maypole. In the 19th century, people began to braid the maypole with ribbons by weaving in and out in the course of a dance. Other later traditions include making garlands for children and the crowning of the May Queen.
Richmond Maids of Honour
Rumor has it that these delectable little curd cheese tarts were named after the maids of honour who served at Richmond Palace in the 16th century. True or not, they taste wonderful made with crisp puff pastry and a filling of squidgy cheese and lemon curd.
- ½ x 500 g pack fresh puff pastry
- flour for dusting
- 8 oz curd cheese
- 1½ oz whole candied lemon peel, finely chopped
- 1½ oz golden caster sugar
- grated zest 1 lemon
- 1 oz ground almonds
- 1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk
- about 2 tablespoons good-quality lemon curd
- powdered sugar for dusting
Pre-heat the oven to 400°F.
You will also need a 3¼ inch plain cutter and two 12-hole shallow bun trays.
- Begin by cutting the block of pastry in half so that you have two squares, and then sprinkle a surface with flour and roll each piece into a square of about 11 inches.
- Then, using the cutter, cut out 9 circles from each piece. Be careful as you do this – just give the cutter a sharp tap and lift it, don’t be tempted to twist it. Now line the tins with the pastry rounds; you should have 18 altogether.
- Then, in a bowl, combine the curd cheese, sugar, lemon zest, ground almonds and chopped candied peel, then beat the egg and egg yolk together in a separate bowl and add this to the rest of the ingredients. Mix very thoroughly with a large fork until everything is very evenly blended.
- Next, spoon half a teaspoon of lemon curd into the base of each pastry case – don’t be tempted to add more as it will bubble over during the cooking – then spoon a dessert spoon of the curd cheese mixture on top of this. Then, when all the mixture has been added, bake the tarts in two batches on the centre shelf of the oven for about 20-25 minutes, by which time the mixture will have puffed right up and turned a lovely golden brown colour.
- Now take them out of the oven and transfer them to a wire rack to cool. Don’t worry if you see them start to sink a little, that’s absolutely normal. If you like, you can give them a faint dusting of powdered sugar before you serve them.