Torta Sambucea
An elderflower & ricotta cheese pie - contributed by Gaylin J. Walli

Original recipes from De honesta voluptate:

Elderberry Pie. Mix with elder flowers all the things which we have noted for white pie. The latter mixture ought to be, however, thicker than the former, because the flowers are distributed throughout. Although this dish is of little nourishment and is digested slowly, nevertheless it makes those eating it frequently happier. Let Caelius eat this, who surpasses Saturn in melancholy. (Milham, 367)

White Pie. Pound well a pound and a half of the best fresh cheese, cut up especially fine. When it is pounded, mix in twelve to fifteen egg whites, a half pound of sugar, a half ounce of white ginger, a half pound of pork fat, the same of fresh butter, and as much milk as will be enough. When you have spread a thin pastry crust in an earthenware pot, put in all these things. When it has been placed on the hearth, cook on a slow fire. Put coals on the top of the lid so that it will become more colored. When it is cooked and taken from this pot, sprinkle ground sugar with rose water on it. This is very nourishing, is digested slowly, warms the liver, but it causes blockages, generates stone, and is bad for eyes and nerves. (Milham, 363)

Modern recipe: Elder Flower White Pie

For 160

  • 20 deep-dish pie crusts, pre-baked
  • 20 pounds fresh ricotta cheese
  • 160 egg whites, very lightly beaten
  • 3 1/3 quarts sugar
  • 6 2/3 ounces fresh ginger root, peeled and minced fine
  • 5 pounds lard
  • 5 pounds butter
  • 2 1/2 quart milk (or less)
  • 1 1/4 cups elder flowers dried
  • 1 cup granulated sugar, for sprinkling
  • rosewater, for sprinkling: OPTIONAL
For 8
  • 1 deep-dish pie crust, pre-baked
  • 1 pound fresh ricotta cheese 
  • 8 egg whites, very lightly beaten 
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 ounce fresh ginger root, peeled and minced fine
  • 1/4 pound lard
  • 1/4 pound butter
  • 1/2 cup milk (or less)
  • 1 tablespoon elder flowers dried 
  • 2 teaspoons granulated sugar, for sprinkling
  • rosewater, for sprinkling: OPTIONAL
Preheat your oven to 325°F. Soften the butter and the lard together, preferably at room temperature (do not melt). Place the cheese in a mixing bowl and add the softened butter and lard, mixing well. Add the ginger and mix well. Add the egg whites, mixing as little as possible and only until thoroughly combined. Add the sugar and mix well. Add the milk, checking to see that the consistency does not get soupy. Use less milk to maintain a batter-like appearance. Add the flowers last and mix until just combined.

Add the mixture to a pre-baked pie shell and bake for 40 minutes. When the oil from the pie separates on the top, remove it from the oven and sprinkle it with the extra sugar and optionally with a few drops of rosewater. Place the pie briefly under the broiler and brown the sugar on the top lightly (or use a kitchen torch to brown the top and caramelize the sugar slightly). Cool the pies to room temperature before cutting. The pie will set as it cools.

Per serving nutritional information:

328 Calories; 23g Fat (64% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 21g Carbohydrate; 43mg Cholesterol; 104mg Sodium

Notes on the recipe:

This recipe represents a somewhat fattier version of today's traditional baked cheesecakes. There's a good chance this recipe would be made similarly to today's ricotta-based cakes (sometimes called "Italian cheesecakes"), which, along with their creamed-cheese counterparts, are really more rich and dense custards than flour-based "cakes" as we might think of today.

The instructions Platina gives us are fairly straightforward. Take your cheese and make sure it's creamy (this is the pounding), add to it some egg whites, sugar, ginger, pork fat, butter, and milk and mix all ingredients well. In an alternate version of the pie, elder flowers (not elder berries as the recipe title suggests) are also added. Everything is put in a pastry crust, baked, lightly browned on top, and finally sprinkled with sugar and rose water prior to serving.

It is possible that when Platina states "the latter mixture ought to be thicker than the former" is because the elder flowers require an evenly distributed suspension. Contrary to some researchers' opinions, we do not believe Platina is informing the cook that the mixture's addition of elder flowers will result in a thicker product. Our experience does not indicate this actually happens.

Egg preparation:

Although whipping the egg whites is not a specified step in any part of this recipe, some cooks may wish to whip them to soft, white peaks and fold them into the cheese mixture to lighten the texture of the pie. We found the texture of the pies to be suitable without this step.

Fresh vs. dry ginger:

The fresh ginger gives this recipe an added je ne sais quoi that simply can't be imitated by the powdered spice. Do not try to substitute the dried powder for the freshly minced root as the powder will make the dish slightly bitter. If you can't find the fresh root in the vegetable section of a grocery store, try looking in the ethnic food section near the Asian offerings. Preserved, unsweetened, and pre-minced ginger often comes in jars, though its cost is usually prohibitive.

Additional notes on this recipe may be found at: The Coronation Feast of Dag IV & Elayna II


Milham, Mary Ella. Platina's On Right Pleasure and Good Health. University of North Carolina at Asheville: Pegasus Press, 1999. ISBN: 0866982086.

Metric, Celsius, & Gas Mark Equivalencies

Gaylin Walli is a technical writer and editor for a multinational software company. She spends the vast majority of her personal time researching things because her friends (and people throughout the known world) torture her with comments like "Do you know anything about..."

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