There was never shop bought pastry in our house. Banish the thought. I’m not entirely sure whether this was because there weren’t quality options available in the 80s, or simply the objection of a keen baker to the idea full stop. Regardless, dessert was commonplace and always homemade. There’s little doubt my passion for baking was founded at home; I’d sit and watch as my mum, armed with her trusty Kenwood and Aga, always an Aga, produce all varieties of sweets before logging favourites in her recipe box (pictured) for future reference.
Amongst the output of sweet items and something that was a mystery to me were tarts; apple tarts, custard tarts, Yorkshire curd tart, treacle tart, lemon tart and so on. The pastry process fascinated me, so few items yet conceived such varied results. I learnt the baking beans were kept in an old icecream container (as was the contents of much of our house) and used in ‘blind baking’ – a concept admittedly not quite grasped at the time. A deep cupboard in the kitchen dresser housed baking tins of all shapes and sizes, many of which have since ‘migrated’ to my own tin cupboard. A flour shaker and large wooden rolling pin were always present and my eyes widened as I watched the pastry being lifted precariously (accompanied by an occasional mild expletive) over the tin before being laid to rest. Perched in the heart of the home, these familiar processes were comforting and what’s more there was always something tangible (and tasty) to show for such diligence.
So, when is a tart not a tart?
When it’s a pie. The French translation the word of ‘tarte’ can refer to either a tart or pie due to their similarities but the important exception is that a tart’s filling is open to be admired unlike a pie who’s filling is hidden away under a pastry blanket. Historically speaking, pies were considered a commoner’s fare, filled with everyday food stuff and eaten mostly by the working class while tarts was made for the aristocratic members of society with superior ingredients and an emphasis on it being an edible work of art and not ‘Medieval tupperware’ that was the pie. It’s these rules that lead me to keep the meringue pie on my tart list; American in origin there’s confusion as to where it sits but for the purpose of this blog a tart is anything without the required pastry lid.
Pastry has continued to be one of my favourite things to make and learning its nuances in college only served to further that love as well as open the door to pastry’s other forms including puff pastry and pate a choux, now firm favourites also. The various creations that followed earned me the title of “Queen of Tarts’ and thus this blog will follow my pastry life as I bake my way through 🙂