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Author Notes: A perennial favorite from my cozy kitchen in the French countryside, this recipe originally appeared on my blog, "Billevesées" (billmadison.blogspot.com). —William V. Madison
Roll of pre-made piecrust dough of a kind you've never seen in any U.S. grocery
Jar(s) of plum preserves you made last summer in an un-air-conditioned kitchen
Bag of powdered almonds you don't know where to find in the U.S.
- Enter the kitchen with a light heart, despite the fact that you are little better than an undocumented domestic servant, a sort of Gastarbeiter in a country where the term has no equivalent. (At least, none that you can think of. What would you know? You’re just an immigrant.) Do not reflect upon the fact that your many years of high-priced education and awe-inspiring professional experience will prove completely useless to the task you are about to undertake.
- Preheat the French-made oven to 7, without knowing precisely what temperature that is. It’s a nice number.
- While the oven is heating, remove from the icebox the rolled-up piecrust dough that you bought at the supermarket, standing for hours while waiting at the check-out. Do not think about the fact that rolled-up piecrust dough like this is impossible to find in the United States. Let the dough come to room temperature.
- Go to the cupboard and fetch one or two jars of the fruit preserves you spent hours making, over a hot stove at the height of August. Do not reflect upon the additional hours you spent hunched over the garden, collecting the ripe fruit that fell like rain; or the hours that you spent sorting the good from the rotten, until the smell of ripe fruit nauseated you, and for weeks you couldn’t get the stick and the smell off of your fingers, and then you couldn’t get the juice stains out of your shirt. (We prefer mirabelle plum preserves.)
- When the oven has reached the correct temperature, whatever that is, unroll the piecrust dough and place it in the pie pan. Remember that, after all these years, you still don’t have a pie pan that is the right size; roll up the edges of the dough so that it will fit in the pan. This makes it look more homemade. Try not to think about the fact that you have never had a kitchen with sufficient counter space to make your own piecrusts.
- Relieve your tension by taking a fork and repeatedly stabbing the piecrust dough, so that it won’t bubble up or crack or stare back at you with its dead yet mocking eyes.
- Pre-cook the piecrust just enough that it doesn’t turn out all mushy, the way it usually does. Do not leave the piecrust too long in the oven, or it will burn to a disgusting, leathery shell, the way it did that time you were cooking dinner for your in-laws. Under no circumstances recall the expression on your mother-in-law’s face when she saw that you couldn’t even cook a prepared piecrust properly.
- Open a pouch of powdered almonds, which you forgot to buy while you were at the supermarket and had to go back for. Try not to think about the fact that you have never seen powdered almonds in any American grocery, and that if you were attempting this recipe in the U.S., you would probably have to shell, peel, and grind the almonds yourself.
- Sprinkle the contents of about one-third to one-half the bag into the piecrust. Spread it evenly with a fork. Or a spoon. Definitely not your fingers. Try not to think about the fact that a bag of powdered almonds costs more than you earned last week. Everything costs more than you earned last week: that’s what it means to be unemployed, and that’s why you need comfort food. (Like fruit tarts.) Place the remainder of the bag of powdered almonds in the refrigerator. You will find it next winter, whereupon you will need to buy another new bag.
- Check the icebox to make sure you haven’t forgotten a jar of fruit preserves already opened and half-eaten. Just because we call it “preserves” doesn’t mean it lasts forever. Think back nostalgically to the many exciting molds and fungi you have discovered in random jars in your icebox, to say nothing of those things that looked like Sea Monkeys, that one time.
- Open a jar of fruit preserves and spoon it evenly on top of the powdered almonds. Run out of preserves before you’re finished. Open a new jar, use about five spoonfuls, reseal the jar, and put it in the icebox, to use later.
- Try not to think about the fact that you don’t have a normal refrigerator, just an icebox, hardly better than some kind of Cro-Magnon chef’s equipment
- Realize that you forgot to add sugar or cinnamon, then remember that Bernard usually adds too much sugar to the preserves, and he doesn’t like cinnamon anyway. Decide that you’re okay, put the tart in the oven.
- Allow to heat. Check on the tart from time to time, in the certain knowledge that, no matter what you do, the tart will probably overcook.
- Forget to use the oven mitt and burn your hand, because you still haven’t replaced the handle to the oven door.
- Enjoy the pleasant aroma of baking tart as it fills the house, mingling with the other aroma, that of the fish you baked last Sunday. Wonder whether the stove is supposed to affect the thermostat this way, so that the furnace turns off. Maybe if the stove weren’t so close to the furnace — but there’s nothing you can do about that now.
- Remember that you couldn’t understand the repairman, even if you did find one at this time of night. “Bin, franchement, Monsieur, il s’agit d’un problème de moucheboum, à l’intérieur de votre chaipamachine, qui s’déclenche au lieu de s’démarrer, donc il va falloir attendre une bonne quinzaine pour commander un blablaruptionblapresseur nouveau. Voici mon devis.”
- Reassure yourself that, by bedtime, the heat will have kicked in again. Probably. In any case, the temperature is supposed to go down only to minus-3 tonight, and really, that’s not very cold, because they use Centigrade over here, and according to your calculations, minus-3 Centigrade is relatively mild. Isn’t it?
- Remove the tart from the oven.
- Place the tart on the windowsill to cool.
- Remove the tart from the windowsill when you remember that time the tart fell off the windowsill and landed in the garden.
- Serve and eat. That was easy, wasn't it?
- This recipe was entered in the contest for Your Best Late Winter Tart (Sweet or Savory)