jeudi 25 février 2010

The time of roses

In England, last summer

There was a time long ago when summer never seemed to end. A time when the six week break from school seemed interminable, a time when days were filled with nothingness and I was unable to sleep at night because the evenings were so light and I was sent to bed fairly early. Back then, I would spend many days at my grandparents' house (the parents of my Mum) while my parents were working. It was the same house my mother grew up in. Behind the garden with a greenhouse filled with tomatoes and old newspapers (a mania of my grandfather's - don't ask!), fields stretched as far as the eye could see. I used to love to climb over the fence to run through the long grass. It reminded me of waves in the sea when it swayed with the summer breeze. There were the delicate colours of the wild flowers and the shady spots under the trees where I liked to sit and make daisy chains.

Apparently, my grandfather was extremely popular with my brothers. They loved him for his charming eccentricity, humour and willingness to play non-stop cricket. But I always preferred my grandmother. She had wavy white hair, thick rimmed glasses, shapely legs and the softest skin which reminded me of the yellow roses she grew. I loved to whisper to her, play secret games together and make fun of my brother always warming his feet above the gas fire. I often think back to one Sunday in autumn when my mother drove us out somewhere in her mustard Cortina. I snuggled up close to her as we looked out at the countryside and then suddenly there was the sadness at having to return already and the thought that the next day would be a school day. Frustratingly, I have so few memories of that afternoon that was to be so important for me but there is just the final impression of looking back out of the car to see my grandparents standing together after we had dropped them off, waving goodbye.

It was to be the last time I would ever see her because the next day she suffered a massive stroke and died a few days later in hospital. Although I spent other summers with my grandfather, it was never exactly the same. The empty fields I played in gradually were fenced off or used to graze horses and it has been many years since I last went to the house which no longer belongs to us. Most of all, I have always been haunted by the idea of how fragile life is, that nothing can be taken for granted, of keeping memories alive. Perhaps it seems a strange time to be telling you this while we're still in the grip of winter but I've wanted to write this post for quite a while and most of all make a recipe that was dear to my grandmother; an egg custard tart. I never really knew her cooking because she had just changed to a gas oven which wasn't good for baking. But my mother told me about this tart and so in way, I have the feeling of my grandmother looking over my shoulder when making it and continuing a tradition somehow. Most of all, it brings back the memories of hazy summer days when everything was simple and the house was filled with the glow of yellow roses.

Some shots from last weekend during my walk in Schlosspark Charlottenburg. Finally, I felt the warmth of the sun again but the ground was icy and the thaw still seems a little way off.

Egg custard tart (not my grandmother's but I'm sure she would have approved)

For the pastry (from Rose Bakery)

125g cold butter
250g plain flour
60g sugar
2 large eggs plus 1 yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Mix the flour, sugar and butter together with your fingertips to get rough breadcrumbs. Make a well in the centre and add the eggs and the vanilla extract. Mix them in with a fork and finish off by hand until the dough forms a ball. Wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for about an hour.
2. When the time's up, roll out the pastry onto a well floured surface until it fits your pie tin with about 1cm overhanging the edge all around. Brush with egg yolk and prick all over with a fork. Bkae blind in the oven at 180°C for about 15 mins then remove the paper and beans and bake for a further 5 minutes or until golden brown.

For the custard

470ml full fat milk (from jersey cows if possible)
100ml double cream
4 large eggs
50g sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
One and a half nutmegs

1. Heat the milk and cream in a saucepan until barely simmering.
2. Beat the eggs and sugar together in a heatproof jug. Pour over the milk mixture, vanilla and half the nutmeg. Pour the liquid onto the pastry case (it will seem very full but don't worry!) and grate over the rest of the nutmeg. Bake at 170°C for around 30-40 mins or until golden brown with crisp pastry.

12 commentaires:

  1. Gorgeous pictures and place! that pie must taste divine!

    cheers and have a great Friday,


  2. Oh Vanessa! This was such a lovely post! I could almost feel myself sharing those wonderful whispered secrets with your beloved grandmother! I loved my German grandmother dearly too and fortunately she lived with us 6 months of the year. She called me Bobbie. She was a brilliant cook too and I have so many of her recipes.
    Your custard tart looks delicious, whether it is the original recipe or not, I know she would have been pleased and honored to read this post!

  3. Cuisiner avec ses fantomes, ca fait du bien quelquefois, on les sent qui nous sourient par dessus l'epaule. C'est un tres joli billet Vanessa, tres doux, comme les joues de ta grand-mere.

  4. J'ai des souvenirs culinaires très nets de ma grand-mère (du civet, des brioches, les conserves qu'elle faisait avec mon grand-père) et j'ai des petites feuilles volantes où elle commentait d'une façon très attendrissante les recettes de cuisine données par ses connaissances, ou des recettes qu'elle testait jusqu'à être satisfaite du résultat. Et je mesure l'importance de toutes ces petites choses (même si je ne me suis pas lancée dans ses recettes, encore...)

  5. What a beautiful, emotional post. I was particularly moved by the story of the mustard Cortina. It tells so much about life, nostalgy, holidays, generation. Thanks for this vibrant description of your memories... (I also liked the picture of the lady laughing at the piece of cake, which, by the way, looks delicious)

  6. @Rosa - I've been wanting to make an egg custard tart for ages so am glad I found the courage. Have a great Sunday!
    @Barbara - Thans for sharing the memories of your grandmother. It must be wonderful to have all those recipes to keep her spirit alive. Recipes are so much more special when there's a personal connection.
    @Gracienne - Merci pour ces mots si doux qui me me touchent vraiment. J'étais tout émue en écrivant ce billet car cela me rapportait tant de souvenirs.
    @Rose - Quelle chance d'avoir de tels souvenirs. J'aurais adoré cuisiner avec ma grande-mère mais je n'avais que 8 ans quand elle est morte et puis avec son four pourri...Je suis contente qu'une partie d'elle reste avec toi.
    @Magda - I somehow found it hard to writie this post because it made me sad but then there's also a nostalgia of those lost summer days which I don't want to lose. Last night, I watched Wild Strawberries again which reinforced this impression. That last afternoon with my grandmother has always made me realise that you can't take anything for granted and have to get the most out of life.
    The picture with the egg custard is of Ingeborg Bachmann. In so many photos she's laughing, even though she had a pretty tragic life. I've just bought the four volume set of her work which is so great. Can't wait till next Saturday!

  7. Beautiful story. Beautiful photography. Gorgeous recipe. Thank you for a private moment with you - someone I don't know - but I was with you...touched, and appreciative.

  8. Hey Valerie, thanks so much for visiting my blog and leaving me such a lovely comment. Now I feel better about the fact that it's Monday tomorrow! It made me really happy to know that my writing had that effect on you.

  9. What an honest and touching post. Thank you for sharing this.

  10. Thanks so much Des. I had been wanting to write this post for quite a while and then reading yours about your uncle really inspired and touched me. I think it's important to keep memories alive.

  11. Oh my, I've been perusing your blog and your close-up dessert photographs are exquisite. I am so in the mood for a nice tart.

  12. Hey there Denise! Thanks for stopping by. I'm so flattered you like my food pics; they're often simple compositions but I try to make an effort ;-) The egg custard tart has always been a favourite of mine so I can totally recommend it.