When I was little, my mum used to make tarts. Apple tarts when apples came into season. Slices of crisp, tart, Granny Smith apples, laid onto a plate covered in shortcrust pastry, in no particular fashion and sprinkled heavily with sugar from a respectable height. When rhubarb was in season, she would stew batches of it in sugar until it became soft and spread the goo around the pastry covered plate.
My mum didn’t enjoy cooking as a rule, but tarts were almost a weekend ritual. And they were good, from the years of practice she had put into making them. The pastry was made by hand, rolled, left to rest in the fridge while the apples were peeled and sliced, or rhubarb was stewed. Once the fruit was ready, she would swiftly sprinkle flour onto a wooden chopping board and the rolling pin and roll out half of the pastry into a big circle and lay it onto a dinner plate. In a flash, the plate was lifted into the air and balanced on the palm of one hand. In the other hand, a butter knife sliced skilfully across the edge of the plate, removing the excess pastry.
Once the fruit was distributed evenly around within an inch of the edge of the plate, she would brush the edge with milk and place the rolled out round of the other half of the pastry on top and repeat the knifing process. I would watch, mesmerised, licking the sugar off a piece of rhubarb that hadn’t made it into the pot to stew. Rhubarb was my favourite. It was an addictive, bittersweet pleasure to lick the sugar off a piece and bite into the sour stalk, mouth pursing, chomping down the stringy sour sweet mouthful. I loved the golden tart that emerged from the oven, watching the steam rising from the little vent holes of the crust as it was sliced into pieces and distributed around the table with a glug of whipped cream. I loved the ruby red of the rhubarb bleeding into the cream as the spoon cut into the hot wedge, waiting impatiently for it to be cool enough to eat.
Right now, my oven is on the blink and I don’t know when I will be able to get a call out to fix it. Rhubarb is in season and in the eighth week of lockdown, comfort food and memories of eating it, seem all the more important. In the absence of the ability to cook a tart, I have recreated the experience without the pastry crust, getting the crunch from walnuts, but you could use amaretti biscuits as well.
200g rhubarb, cut into inch thick pieces
3 tbsp brown sugar (this is a guide, you may need more if you have a sweet tooth)
5tbsp rose water
Small pot of single cream
A handful walnuts, toasted
INSTRUCTIONS Place the rhubarb, rose water and sugar into a pot and bring to a simmer. Stir to allow the sugar to melt and taste to see if you need to add more sugar. Add a splash of water if it is becoming too dry. I like to cook the rhubarb until it breaks down, but you might like to simmer it gently until it is just soft. You can also add some grated orange zest.
Spoon the rhubarb into two bowls, drizzle with cream and top with walnuts or amaretti biscuits.