Friday, June 29, 2012

Memories of Gooseberry Tarts

In my life, there have been three gooseberry tarts.

The first was a Martha Stewart Living inspired creation, with a thin layer of custard and purple-red gooseberries. This was before tarts were a regular thing for me, and it was made in a large mary jane pan that my mother found at a tag sale. At the time, I did not know it was called a mary jane pan, or what it was for, so I just used it like a regular tart pan. For those in my erstwhile situation, a mary jane pan is a tart pan with a raised center, designed to create a cake with a fillable indentation. I can't find a good picture of such a pan, but here is a good shot of a cake made with one. The tart was beautiful and delicious, though a bit wobbly. I don't remember exactly when I made it, except that it was during the time that Jill and I lived in a little shack in a garden on Hope Street in Williamsburg, and that I bought the gooseberries at the Union Square farmers market and had never seen any before, and that Jill's stepmother Rosie was in town and ate some of the tart. We may or may not have eaten at an outdoor faux chowder house.

Those were good days, in our tiny little house in the garden, where my room had a palatial ceiling fan, a pig-iron bedframe that let the mattress slip through and required eternal caution to mount, and an iron burn on the floor. A quirk of ceiling vent turned the tiny bathroom (separate from the shower and the sink) into an accidental confessional, perfect for overhearing all the drama from the balcony of a nearby bar, Larry Lawrence. Yes, its name was, and continues to be, Larry Lawrence. In retrospect, it makes me feel very 1930s Paris to have lived three years in two Brooklyn apartments without sinks in the bathroom. (I've never been to Paris, or the 1930s, but I have vague romantic ideas).

Speaking of vague romantic ideas, if I didn't have a thing for early 20th century British children's novels, I don't think I'd have a clue that 'playing gooseberry' is slang for tagging along as an unwanted chaperone on a date.

The second gooseberry tart in my life was made by Carrie, and the memory of it has lingered largely because it is such a perfect illustration of some of her best talents--if she loves you, she will show up at your door sometimes with a handful of berries and make you a tart. In this case, the door belonged to my parents, and they have treasured the memory of this impromptu tart for years, partly because it was the first time either of them had eaten a gooseberry.

This lingering memory inspired a recent purchase on my mother's part. Surprised to find gooseberries at her farmers market, she bought me a little carton. I'm sure she assumed that I would make something with them during my weekend visit, but instead I selfishly packed them (along with several pounds of strawberries) and took them home. A few weeks later, (they keep very well in the 'icebox,' as the seller said), I noticed them ripening and made tart number three.

This tart, made in a proper tart pan, of which I now have several, of course, was also a custard tart, a variation on the cherry clafoutis from Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table.  The crust was Dorie's Sweet Tart Dough, a very forgiving and buttery dough made with confectioner's sugar and an egg yolk. I think it's a Pate Sucre, but what do I know? In any case, it was parbaked and then filled with gooseberries and custard. I didn't sugar the gooseberries, so they stood out sharp and tart against the sweet crust and custard. To round out the Western MA theme, I tossed in a few of the strawberries that I'd roasted with sugar. The result was delicious, which was foregone (it had custard), but also uncommonly beautiful. The opalescent pink shine of the berries through the custard reminded me of pretty plastic beads, and the strawberries added occasional touches of color. It was nearly perfect, at least to my taste.

And it's my taste that matters, these days. Certain hints may have given this away, but I might as well say it: Matt and I are no longer together, and I'm slowly beginning to put together the pieces of a life without him. Clich├ęs abound, and certainly fuel my nostalgia for more than tarts. For now I'm just doing my best to live in this place of loss and change, and occasional perfect tarts. Though, to tell the truth, it too was imperfect, and the egg yolk wasn't well whisked in to the filling. There's room for improvement, at any rate, but it was very good.

There's more to say, maybe, but not now. I'm not as calm nor as wise as I'm maybe trying to sound. I'm looking into meaner stories, stronger stands, and harder things. Nothing is going to be the same, now. New memories. Old ones. And gooseberry tarts.

1 comment:

Joan said...

Actually, the gooseberry vendor said that they would keep 'just fine in the crispah'.
And you are wiser than you know.