We are bombarded with information about food these days, especially in the news. Food, we are told can either kill us or cure us. One week we are told we can eat butter the next week we can't. But food has always had another purpose, a real down to earth purpose, a bringing of people together, for comfort in times of need or for a celebration of life. It's very easy to forget this but maybe we need to remind ourselves that food has more to do with celebrating life than being a cure or a poison. Can we go back to a time when food was about nourishment and celebration and community?
Last week I was invited by a friend to take a trip to a little village outside Ely to visit a community orchard, we took the kids after school and walked through this little orchard picking apples, eating them straight from the trees. My girl was a little wary at first, reluctant to eat an apple that hadn't been washed, it didn't take long though before she was munching on an apple, choosing which ones to pick and deciding what we would do with them when we got home. Apple pies were top of the list 😉 It was a lovely day, we met locals walking their dogs, stopping to chat and maybe checking that we hadn't stripped the orchard bare, (sadly, that happens occasionally, we were told )
Spending time in that orchard brought me right back to being a kid in Ireland, not that we had community orchards, I grew up in the suburbs of a city, but it reminded me of the traditional Irish apple tart. It reminded me of visiting family friends and cousins, it reminded me of unexpected visitors and how an apple tart always appeared on the kitchen table as if by magic. I grew up in a time when people just called, unannounced, there was not much arranging of visits, there were no text messages to arrange dates and times, people just called to see you or you just popped in, whether is was checking in on friends or bringing news, good or bad, that is just what happened and somehow there was always apple tart and tea. I miss that, I miss the unexpected visitor.
So I'm making a conscious effort to be more of an unexpected visitor and because I'm nice I'll be bringing the apple tart. In a time when we are super connected digitally we are told we are the loneliest we have ever been, so maybe we should be using food to bring company to friends who may be lonely, who may not have had a visitor in a while, who would love to hear some news over a cup of tea and a slice of apple tart. The Irish apple tart is easy to make with not a huge list of ingredients, you probably have all you need to make it in your kitchen already, so make two, one for your freezer, just in case you have an unexpected visitor, and take one with you when you go visit, unexpectedly of course.
*Inspired by the all the apple tarts made by my nan, my mum, my sister, my aunts and my neighbour Mary in Clane, all made with love for unexpected visitors x
For the pastry
- 225 g plain flour
- ¼ level tsp of salt
- 140 g butter chilled plus extra for greasing the pie dish
- 4-5 tbsp chilled water
- 2 large free-range egg yolks
- 2 tbsp of milk
For the filling
- 900 g cooking apples , peeled, cored and cut into thick slices
- The juice of half a medium lemon
- 3 tbsp golden castor sugar
- ⅛ tsp ground cloves
- Pre heat the oven to 180 degrees C, I use a fan assisted electric oven, please adjust according to your own oven.
- Sift the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl, grate in the butter. Using a round tipped knife, or a pastry knife if you have one ( I used a butter knife) to mix in the butter, then using your finger tips rub the butter into the flour, until you have rough breadcrumbs.
- Mix the egg yolks with the chilled water and again using the knife mix it into the flour and butter until it comes together into a ball, about 5 minutes. Then on a floured surface lightly kneed the pastry until it is smooth, wrap it in cling film and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
- In a large mixing bowl add the apples, sugar, lemon juice and ground cloves, using your hand mix well to make sure the apples are covered. Grease a 22cm pie dish or an oven proof plate.
- Take the pastry out of the fridge, cut it into two parts, one slightly larger than the other, wrap the smaller portion and put it back in the fridge.
- On a floured surface, roll out the pastry into a round, it should be fairly thin, please see photo. Place the pastry into the pie dish, gently press down the pastry around the edge, then brush a little milk over the edge of the pastry.
- Place the apple mixture into the dish, arranging it evenly.
- Roll out the remaining pastry as above. Place the pastry over the apples. Again push down gently around the edges. Then pick up the pie dish and hold it flat in the palm of your hand. Using a sharp small knife trim the excess pastry off so that the pastry is flush with the edge of the pie dish. You can use the excess pastry to make decorations for your tart.
- You can now either pinch the edges together using your forefinger and thumb, or use a fork. I like the fork method, dip the fork into the milk and gently push the back of a fork along the edge of the pie all the way around. Then using the fork pierce some holes in the pastry to let out the steam during cooking. Brush the milk all over the pie and then bake in the oven, on the middle shelf, for about 30 minutes. Place on a cooling tray to cool slightly. Serve warm with ice cream, cream or custard.
- Traditionally Irish apple tart was made on oven proof plates, but you can use pie dishes too if you like, I used 22cm pie dishes.
- To freeze your apple tart, double wrap the uncooked tart in film, pop it into a freezer bag, seal tightly and place in the freezer, cook from frozen. Heat the oven to 200 degrees C, place the tart on a baking tray and place on the middle shelf, cook for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 180 degrees C and cook for 20 - 30 minutes, checking the pie every 10 minutes or so. You want a rich golden colour on your tart.