Maids of Honour (May Day)

May Day, or Garland Day was a day of great celebration to welcome arrival of spring. There are many traditions related to May Day but I am particularly drawn to the one where you have to get up at dawn to wash your face in the dew. Along with ensuring a fine complexion it also promised that you would marry the first man you set eyes on afterwards. Sounds decidedly risky to me. There are several traditional recipes synonymous to the day, most of which seem to require huge quantities of alcohol. But also there are “Maids of Honour”. These sweet tartlets are thought to have been originally served to Anne Boleyn, whilst she was a lady-in-waiting to Catherine of Aragon, at the court of Henry VIII. It is said that Henry was so delighted with the recipe that it was locked away so the tartlets could only be produced for him. The recipe was “leaked” in Georgian times so we can all now enjoy them.

I have produced below a 21st century version of the recipe, as I doubt that many will want to go through the palaver of having to make curds with milk and rennet!

Ingredients - makes 18

8oz (225g) home made or ready made puff pastry Grated rind of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons (2 x 15ml spoons) quince or apple jelly or apricot jam 2oz (50g) ground almonds
8oz (225g) curd or cottage cheese 2 medium eggs
3oz (75g) caster sugar 1 tablespoon (1 x 15ml spoon) brandy (optional)
Icing sugar to dust  


  1. Grease some bun or patty tins.
  2. Roll out the pastry very thinly and cut out rounds large enough to fit in the bun tin and for a lip around the top. A flower shaped cutter makes a particularly attractive “Maid of Honour”.
  3. Spoon a little of the jelly or jam in to the bottom of each pastry case. Chill while you prepare the filling.
  4. Sieve curd or cottage cheese through a fine sieve into a mixing bowl.
  5. Mix in the caster sugar, ground almonds and lemon rind.
  6. Beat eggs, and brandy if using, and add to the curd mixture.
  7. Mix thoroughly until well blended.
  8. Fill each pastry case two thirds full with the curd mixture.
  9. Bake in the centre of a fairly hot oven (400ºF, 200ºC, Gas Mark 6) for about 25 minutes, until well risen and puffy.

Serve warm or cold, dusted with icing sugar.


Maids of Honour