When I was little, every Saturday morning started the same way. I would wake at some ungodly hour to a very silent house. The maternal fatwah calling for the lashing by tongue of all early riser infidels had been in place for years, so I would mooch about on my own for an hour or so, and then wake my brother. I usually had to wake him by pulling up his eyelids. He would punch me, reluctantly get up, and after he’d made us coffee and toast, it was just about time for the girl and her psycho clown to be replaced by Saturday morning tv.
It was always halfway through Tiswas when Mum put in an appearance. Not the smiling face of a woman well-rested, but the very irritated face of a woman who had been to my bedroom. ‘Go upstairs and tidy your room, NOW’. Up I went, and pottered around, getting sidetracked by toys I’d forgotten I owned. Eventually I would chuck everything into the bottom of my wardrobe and slink back downstairs. How she saw through my 'she’ll-never-find-it-in-the-bottom-of-the-wardrobe' ruse I’ll never know, but within a very short time I was marched back upstairs to ‘do it properly’.
I have never been tidy. It does not occur to me to be neat; my life is about greater or lesser degrees of chaos. I have spread my mess through student rooms, apartments, rented houses and houses we own. I have observed that my mess is cyclical; it is invisible for days or even months and then it all looms up, lurching towards me with outstretched dusty arms, demanding that I pay attention and do something.
So few people in life are genuinely untidy like me. Most women I meet have been schooled in the art of picking things up off the floor, buying storage, finishing one job before starting another, bleaching the inside of the bin (why?), bleaching the inside of the teapot (alarming), folding plastic bags, having a place for every item in the house and…well, I could go on and on. There must be some lack in me that seeks out these tidy women, many of them are my friends, and I feel like a messy child in comparison.
I have only one friend who does mess on my industrial scale. Clever, funky Jo. It’s such a relief to go to her house. We chat, she cooks delicious food and I gaze happily at her clutter through a haze of plentiful wine. I recently purchased one of her original sculptures, and as I found a place for it in my home, I reflected on what is important in life. A neat, sparkly house? Or the ability to create something - art, food, family - that makes people say, ‘Wow, that’s cool’, and sod the mess?
My tidy Mum used to make apple pie. She made it on a pyrex plate and for the top of the pie she would cut out two pastry leaves, and arrange them neatly in the centre of the pie. It did look very good. Very orderly.
My apple pie does not look like my mother’s pie. It looks a bit messy, but it does taste very good, and won’t look out of place in a less-than-pristine home.
Untidy Apple Pie (Click here for tips on avoiding cross-contamination)
If you are not gluten-intolerant but need to avoid dairy, click here for a pastry recipe, and substitute the butter and lard (!) with dairy-free spread
For the Pastry:200g sweet potato, (peeled, cooked, cooled and mashed)
125g rice flour (+ up to 5 extra tbsps)
1 tsp xanthan gum
1 tsp gluten-free baking powder
100g dairy-free spread
For the filling:
4 medium sized apples (cookers or eaters)
Approx 2-4 tbsps lemon juice
1 tsp cinnamon
2-4 tbsps sugar
- Up to 36 hours before, cook the sweet potato by steaming or boiling, then mash it until smooth. Spread it out over a plate and chill in the fridge. The pre-requisite for using the mashed potato is that it be very cold, so you need to do this part at least 4 hours before starting the pie
- Peel, core and dice the apples and place in a large bowl. Sprinkle over the lemon juice - you are aiming to coat all the pieces of apple with juice - add the cinnamon and sugar and mix it all together. The sugar and lemon juice will fight it out together and form a lovely syrup in the bottom of the bowl, fret not, we will use the syrup later. Set the bowl aside
- Put the rice flour, xanthan gum and baking powder into a large mixing bowl and mix together
- Add the dairy-free spread and rub it into the flour mix until it looks vaguely like breadcrumbs. It won't look like very fine breadcrumbs, but don't worry
- Add the sweet potato mash and using the back of a metal spoon mix and squidge it all together until it forms a dough. It could be that the dough is too wet and sticky to work with, so add more rice flour, tablespoon by tablespoon. Mix after each addition until you get a soft, pliable dough that isn't sticky. Chill the dough in the fridge for about half an hour if you can, (you can leave it for longer if it suits you, I've done it for at least 4 hours and it's been fine)
- Pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees celsius/gas 4 and line a baking tray with baking parchment
- Flour your work surface with some rice flour, and roll out the pastry to a circle about 33cm in diameter (that's very precise isn't it? I toil hard for your culinary pleasure!)
- Transfer the pastry circle (I'll accept 34cm if you didn't manage 33) to the baking tray. No matter if it hangs flabbily over the edges (haven't we all felt like that at some time?) we shall gather it all up in a mo
- Pile up your apple mix in the centre of your pastry. Try not to get too much sugary lemon juice onto the pastry
- Now carefully gather the pastry up to embrace the apple pile. Remember this is untidy apple pie, please don't stress if it doesn't look neat. You'll have to fold and pinch and shove it a bit to gather it all up, but this pie is very forgiving and it really won't care
- When it is all in place, smear the lemon juice all over the outside of the pie, easiest way is to use your fingers
- Sprinkle sugar all over the outside of the pie, press it in a bit if it doesn't adhere
- Place your messy, happy pie in the oven and bake for about 10 minutes. Remove it from the oven and cover it lightly with tin foil and bake for a further 15 minutes or so. For the finale, remove foil, and return to the oven to make everything golden for the last 5-10 minutes
- Serve this to scruffy friends. Newspapers propped up by milk bottles are very welcome, piles of unfiled post at the table are also a good accompaniment