What is interesting, though, is when the addition of certain ingredients strays, in the view of the eater, into the zone of possible physical danger. Living in Washington DC for almost 20 years, it was as difficult towards the end of that period as it was at the start to get hold of offal. Most supermarkets - independent butchers are rare - sell a spread of skinless chicken breasts, a lesser stock of thighs and legs, a display of vermillion-red cuts of beef, pork roasts and very thin un-fatty chops - the Other White Meat, as it’s marketed, with its implication of better health attached.
Newly arrived, I drove all over the capital in search of kidneys to make a steak-and-kidney pie, to introduce new American friends to British culture. Finding a complicit French butcher behind the meat country of an upmarket food store, I nevertheless had to sign a Food & Drug Administration form saying I fully understood the dangers of eating offal and another form that exonerated him from liability should any health issue arise.
The kidneys weren’t available at the time. They had to be ordered from some independent location. Nor would they be fresh. They arrived several days later, frozen into a brick. When the guests sat down at the dinner in front of the traditional British pie, they each carefully removed every piece of kidney and set it aside on the rim of their plates.
More recently, we had a friend from another European country to stay. She sat at the kitchen counter watching me make Tarte aux Abricots, chatting away as I rolled the pastry about the joys of French food and how impressive was the French way of using every part of everything, having been served the previous night a warm salad of wilted radish and beetroot leaves. However, she had her limits, too.
When I cracked open the stones of the apricots, blanched their kernels to remove their skins and scatter the nuts over the apricot tart, she rebelled. Surely they would give her cyanide poisoning. Despite my assurance that she would have to eat the weight of her head in apricot kernels before she was in any danger, she was clearly unsettled enough that I had to use almond slivers instead to make her feel safe.
You can use whichever you prefer for the apricot tart below.
I offer this recipe because the method applies to any soft fruit - although you will find that plums leak a good deal of juice in the baking. I don’t find that a drawback, but it does make the pastry a little soggy. In a good plum-y way, in my view. It also works beautifully as an apple tart. Peel and core the apples, then cut them into slices you overlap down the pastry. Baking a fruit tart in a rectangle saves an awful lot of work and avoids that struggle of getting pastry and fruit happily settled into a round tin. Also, it slices more easily.
- 250g plain or puff pastry
- 500g fresh apricots, halved and stoned
- Kernels of apricots for scattering, or almond slivers (optional)
- 100g unsalted butter, melted
- 150g caster sugar
- Icing sugar for dusting
Preheat oven to 200C.
Roll out pastry to a rectangle on a flour-dusted work surface and lay on a large buttered baking sheet. Use the tip of a knife to score a light line all the way round, 1 cm from the edge.
Crack the apricot stones and remove their kernels. Blanch the kernels in boiling water for 1 minute, then drain off the water and skin them. Arrange apricots as tightly as possible over pastry, cut side up. Brush the apricots and the pastry edges with the melted butter, sprinkle the fruit with sugar and scatter almond kernels or slivers over. Bake for 30-40 minutes, till the apricots are soft and beginning to char a little. Charring is important, adding a caramel flavour. Sieve over icing sugar just before serving and eat at room temperature on its own or with creme fraiche, or ice cream.
This column written by Julia Watson originally appeared in the July 2020 edition of The Bugle.