Barbara's Pies

May 2007

I have many delicious recollections of Barbara’s pies, but the sweetest has to be of the tart tatin she made one late summer day. The gnarly old apple tree there, badly in need of pruning, still produces an abundance of small, red-skinned, slightly tart fruit.

One afternoon, Barbara and Tom and I gathered up a huge bowl of fallen apples. By the time it was peeled and cored, and its bad spots cut away, a single apple didn’t yield more than a bite or two, but we had plenty of apples and plenty of time, and there was virtue in using something beautiful that would otherwise have gone to waste.

While the oven was heating up, Barbara cooked a caramel of butter and brown sugar in a skillet, then tipped in the apples. While they were cooking, she mixed the flour, salt and butter together with her fingers, then rolled out the dough with a wine bottle. She draped the pastry over the simmering apples, tucked in the edges, then put the skillet into the oven.

About a half-hour later, it was done. Barbara put a plate on top of the pastry, then flipped the skillet over to lay the tart on top of the plate. She lifted the skillet away and we beheld perfection: golden flaky crust under tender apples in a rich amber caramel. I couldn’t’ tell you what else we ate for dinner that night, but the memory of that tart, how it looked, how it tasted, the smell of it filling the old house, are all still fresh in my mind. Barbara said it was the best one she’d ever made, and gave credit to the apples and the gnarly old tree. The tree, for its part, remained silent, but proud.

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