When it came to buying my wedding dress, I approached it like any other purchase. ‘Important to shop around’, I thought. So I did. In the first shop I tried on a couple, and then with my loyal friend Sandra in tow, we trailed all over town with me undressing and dressing with flagging enthusiasm.
Finally in one boutique as I hummed and harred over yet another dress, the rather formidable Madame turned to me,
‘Have you already seen ze dress that you lurrve?’ (we were in France)
I nodded meekly, (it had been in the first shop).
‘Zen why are you ‘ere? Ze dress is like ze lurrve of your life, once you ‘av found ‘im you do not go trying more men, no? Now, you go back to ze uzzer shop and you buy your dress, ok?’
I nodded meekly again, went back to the first shop where I dropped some serious cash on my wedding dress. Well, she told me to, right?
Her words came back to me years later when husband (same one, she was right about the lurrve of your life thing) and I were hoping to buy our first house. We viewed lots of houses, and then we found The One. No matter that the kitchen looked like a 70’s acid-induced mistake, no matter that the bathroom had green bamboo wallpaper, and no matter that the DIY-challenged previous owner had tried to construct a built-in wardrobe. Badly. None of that mattered, because I loved the house. Husband loved the house. We bought the house.
We moved in September, and for the first few weeks, enjoyed sun, country walks and pints in the local pub. The mature garden flourished for us and gave us apples and pears a-plenty. We picked blackberries with the children and I made apple and blackberry crumble. Who knew that the Garden of Eden could be found just 10 miles from the M25? We had arrived in Paradise. I will gloss over the mouse infestation, the leaking ‘conservatory’ roof and the potholed drive. And the rusty guttering, and the windows that needed replacing. And the cracked paving stones that made up the patio. Never mind all that because we enjoyed those blissful days in September.
By a strange coincidence, only 5 years later we were to buy another house. In September. It happened all over again. The fruit trees, the blackberries, the baking, the delight. There must be something about buying a house in September. And we were even more deluded about our latest purchase; only the downstairs was really finished, from parts of upstairs you could see through the ancient timber to the fields beyond. Like I say, no matter, we loved the house.
3 years on, we still love the house, and the fruit trees in the garden have gone into overdrive. Too many pears and too many apples. I’ve tried to palm them off on a neighbour so he can make cider, but he was having none of it.
And then I remembered our first house, and a moment husband and I had shared in the very rickety ‘conservatory’. The Sunday Times had arrived in the morning and in it, a recipe for pears. Oh happy day! I plucked pears off the trees, did all the right things, and by late afternoon we were sitting in the lean-to (let’s call a spade a spade) drinking coffee and eating poached pear tart. In our very first house. It was very thrilling.
And as yet another September rolls on, I have pears, I have a house, and I have bastardised the Sunday Times recipe so that it’s fit for those with allergies. So with no further ado, I give you Pear and Chocolate Tart. Enjoy this in your falling down lean-to that you grandly call a conservatory, and be thankful for all the good things that are yours.
Pear and Chocolate Tart (makes 4 tarts)
You will need to poach the pears about 6 hours before making the tarts, as they need to cool down. Don't be put off about needing to poach the pears, it's very easy to do, and once poached, you can freeze them in the juice until you need them. You can poach pears even if they are too hard to eat/unripe, now isn't that cool?
2tsps ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground ginger
8-10 tbsps sugar
300g dark chocolate (make sure it's gluten free and dairy free)
75g dairy free spread (or butter if you can)
3 tbsps of golden syrup
water or Grand Marnier (surely a no-brainer?) to thin the sauce for 'drizzling'
300g Doves Farm plain white gluten free flour
1 tsp xanthan gum
¼ tsp guar gum (or another ¼ of xanthan if you don't have guar)
(or 300g flour with gluten if you can eat it, omit the xanthan and guar gum)
½ tsp gluten free baking powder
½ tsp salt
150g dairy free spread (or butter if you can)
140ml (ish) cold water
- To poach the pears: peel the pears, but leave the stalks in situ. Fill a large saucepan with enough water to cover the pears. Add the cloves, and spices and sugar and bring to the boil. When the water is boiling, immerse the pears, and leave to bubble for about 40-60 mins. You can check to see if they are tender by inserting a skewer or tip of a sharp knife. When poached, leave them to cool in the water. You can store them overnight in the fridge in their juice covered with cling film, or you can freeze them in their juice at this point
- To make the pastry, put the flour, gum (if using) and salt into a large mixing bowl. Add the dairy free spread (or butter) and rub it into the flour using the tips of your fingers, until the mix resembles fine breadcrumbs. Then gradually add the cold water until you have a workeable dough, not too sticky. Disappointingly, the dough does crack a little even at this stage, but it can be smoothed over with rice milk/milk to even out before baking. Wrap the dough in cling film and chill in the fridge for about 30 mins whilst you...
- ...turn on the oven to 180° celsius make the chocolate filling. Heat a little water into a small saucepan and place a large pyrex bowl on the top. Break up the chocolate and add it to the bowl, stirring occasionally so that it doesn't stick/burn. When the chocolate has melted, remove from the heat and add the dairy free spread (or butter) and golden syrup and mix until blended. You might need to whack it back on the saucepan again to get that dairy free spread to melt. Set the chocolate mix to one side and dive back into the fridge for your pastry
- Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper and flour a chopping board/work surface with the Doves Farm gluten free flour, and break off half the dough. Roll out the dough to just less than ½cm, and cut out 4 rectangles that are just bigger than your pears (have a look at the pic to see what I mean)
- Transfer two pastry rectangles to the baking sheet. Carefully spread chocolate sauce over them, but leave at least a centimetre gap around the edge. Dampen the edges with rice milk/milk. Cover the chocolatey rectangles with their 'lids' and press the edges together, trying not to let any chocolate ooze out from the sides
- Now, take one of your cooled poached pears, and carefully slice it down the middle, including the stalk. If you can dig out some of the core from each half then do so, if not, let your guests dig it out with their knife and fork, people expect to be spoon fed these days don't they? A bit of backbone is what this country needs, they can dig out their own core, it won't do them any harm.
- When you have sliced the pear down the middle, place it onto the 'lid' of the tart, and gently press down. Using the point of a sharp knife, carefully cut around the pear following its contours, just piercing the top layer of pastry, not the bottom
- Now, wet the pastry all over with rice milk/milk and place it into the oven at 180° celsius for about 20-25 minutes
- Whilst it's cooking away, turn your attention back to your chocolate sauce. Fire up the saucepan again and place the bowl on top to re-heat the chocolate sauce. When it is warm, gradually add some water or Grand Marnier to thin the sauce. In fact, you should probably start with water, then add just a touch of liqueur at the end, I don't want to accused of giving the green light to your drinking. When it is nice and liquid, for 'drizzling' (oh how I hate that word, it makes me wince), remove it from the heat and twiddle your thumbs whilst you wait for the tarts to finish
- When they are done and out of the oven, place them onto your serving plate and 'drizzle' (bleurgh) away with the chocolate sauce, do fine flourishes around the edges of the plate and make it look marvellous
- Serve to your adoring husband/other