As far as I can remember, it was in the 70’s that I realised how much I enjoyed cooking.The first manifestation of the important place that cooking had taken in my life was not the sudden appearance of well designed cooking utensils and accessories in our kitchen; it was the sea change of the ingredients that were now to be found in our store cupboard. Each week would mark an increase in the selection of oils, vinegars, dried pulses, flours, grains, sugars, and all imaginable varieties of spices and seasonings. Bundles of dark, sticky vanilla pods would stand in a tall, thin glass jar next to a squat one filled with Turkish dried apricots. Small bottles of liqueurs and spirits managed not to get immediately drunk and instead remained intact, ready to add to their flavours to a sauce or a dessert. These were the building bricks of flavour.The volume of my carefully chosen pots, pans and utensils increased in direct proportion to my slowly growing ability to make food taste delicious. Taste is where my heart lies which leaves refinement on the shelf. It may be that I have seen too much carefully presented food during my career that makes me so distrustful and, more to the point, disinterested in carefully crafted platefuls. It may also serve as a handy excuse for my lack of so many culinary skills amongst which is the making of puff pastry. I lack the will as well as the skill.
And this is all leading where? It is leading to the pastry base or the top, depending at which stage of the cooking at which we find ourselves, of a tarte tatin. I was in the habit of making a sweet, crumbly pastry as the tatin’s base until last week’s epiphany when a bowl of golden plums were begging to be encased in a pastry nest which, in turn, led me to research the possibilities for a plum tatin on the internet where I found a recipe by Mary Cadogan. Now, up to this point, I have religiously made the pastry of my tatins from one of Mary’s recipes that called for a pastry of flour, butter, sugar and egg yolk. A deliciously sweet, yellow pastry it was and is, but, it was and is time consuming; what with chilling the pastry whilst washing up rolling pins, pastry boards and all the other paraphernalia. The new plum epiphany had a shop bought puff pastry base.
As you may well imagine, I blanched. I even tried to ring Mary to confirm that this was a mistake, but she had fled to England in shame, or so I imagined. More research quickly showed me that it was I that who had remained in ignorance of current tatin practice. I am now a shop bought puff pastry devotee rejoicing in the reduction of preparation time for a tarte tatin that makes it a fine example of “fastish food”.
I should mention that the tatin at the beginning of this post is made of pears although, when turned tatin like, they may look like the golden plums which, as did a similarly coloured fleece to Aeneas in ancient times, cause me to set out my simpler voyage of discovery…..if Aeneas had just googled “Golden Fleece” he would have realised that it was just a load of tassle bollocks written by an early precursor of the Θ. Κ.Ροωλινγ that was to come.