The apple tansey is one of the oldest Southern desserts you’ll find. While many recipes can’t withstand our changes in tastes over hundreds of years, this delicious treat passes the test of time.
An Early Colonial Recipe
The apple tansey (sometimes spelled tansy) is an old recipe that was brought to colonial Virginia from England in the 18th century. The first known recipe for this dessert was spotted in The Compleat Housewife: or, Accomplished Gentlewoman’s Companion by E. Smith, published in London, 1754. These instructions were provided:
To make an Apple Tansey,“Apple Tansy” Recipe from Colonial Williamsburg : The Colonial Williamsburg Official History & Citizenship Site (slaveryandremembrance.org)
Take three pippins, slice them round in thin slices, and fry them with butter; then beat four eggs, with six spoonfuls of cream, a little rosewater, nutmeg, and sugar; stir them together, and pour it over the apples; let it fry a little, and turn it with a pye-plate. Garnish with lemon and sugar strew’d over it.
Yum. The chefs from the days of yore got this one right. So we’re going to share our own version of this dish with you today.
Tips for Making and Serving Apple Tansey
Making the apple tansey is a simple process, but there are a few tips to keep in mind.
- Watch the broiler step carefully, so your tansey doesn’t get scorched. If your broiler has a temperature setting, use 550F. If it is a High/Low setting, use High.
- When you’re arranging the apples, keep in mind that you’ll be flipping over the tansey to serve after it’s fully cooked. So the apple slices that are placed at the bottom, against your skillet, should be neat. And you’ll want a nice thick layer of thin slices, as shown below.
- When you initially lay down the apple slices, don’t worry about placement, since you’re going to have to move them around quite a bit to get them all cooked. What I do is cook them, dump them onto a plate, and then use small tongs to nicely arrange them back into the skillet.
- Makes a great dish for a brunch!
- If enjoying for dessert, serve with vanilla ice cream if you’d like, especially on a hot day. You can even make your own ice cream.
- Leftovers can be refrigerated and eaten cold the next day, or warmed up in the microwave.
Substitutions for Apple Tansey Ingredients
- The 2 teaspoons of rose water can be substituted with 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, but it will change the flavor of the apple tansey. (Spoiler alert: It will still be delicious.) The last time I made this dish, I tried a teaspoon of almond extract as the sub, and the flavor worked really well.
- Fuji apples are used in this recipe because their sweet, crispy, and juicy flavor profile make them a great choice for baking. Can’t find Fuji apples or just want to try a different type? Check out this helpful guide of common apple types to pick the variety that will work best for your taste preferences.
- If you want to use the apple variety from the 1754 recipe, pick up some Newtown Pippins! You may have trouble finding them though, as they’re cultivated today on a pretty small scale…but some fruit companies sell them online.
We hope you’ll enjoy our version of the apple tansey!
- 8" Cast Iron Skillet
- 3 Fuji apples cored and sliced thin
- 4 eggs
- 3 tbsp butter
- 2 tbsp whipping cream (or heavy cream)
- 2 tsp rose water can sub with 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- 2 tbsp sugar
- Core your apples and cut into thin slices.
- Preheat your oven broiler to 550 degrees.
- In an 8 inch cast iron skillet, melt the butter over medium heat.
- Add the apples to the melted butter, arranging as desired. Cook about 5 to 8 minutes, turning as needed, until slightly softened. Allow to caramelize as you prepare the egg mixture.
- In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, whipping cream, rose water, nutmeg, and sugar until smooth. Pour over apples and continue to cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until the edges and bottom are set.
- Move the skillet into the oven under the broiler and cook an additional 2 to 3 minutes until the egg is completely cooked.
- Remove skillet from oven and carefully flip onto a large flat plate.
- Slice and serve garnished with powdered sugar, granulated sugar, or lemon slices.