My mums Apple Tart
Updated: Sep 14
Living in Northern Ireland, the word ‘culture’ has become somewhat of a so called “piss take”. Our politicians have used it too often in a willy-nilly way in the past, to excuse inexcusable behaviour associated with sectarianism e.g. burning an Irish/British flag on a bonfire cause its “kulture…”
Now a days it’s more of a colloquialism that we all say with a really broad Belfast accent to excuse any ‘un-PC’ behaviour when cajoling with our mates 😬
Less of a contentious phrase then…cultural heritage – what is it and what does it mean? It’s basically the family traditions, customs and practices that have been passed down from one generation to the next. And what a better time of the year to talk traditions than Halloween?! 🎃
Halloween has always been an important event in the Irish calendar. If you look back at the origins of Hallow’s eve, as it was known, it all started with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts as they thought if you dressed up in disguise the ghosts wouldn’t recognise you.
The original Jack O’Lanterns were carved in turnips…the story goes that Stingy Jack played some tricks on the Devil and also annoyed God so he wasn’t allowed into Heaven nor Hell and he used an old Turnip to create a lantern and roamed the earth as ‘Jack of the Lantern’. I can remember as a kid growing up in rural Ireland we wouldn’t have had access to pumpkins like we do now a days so we would have tried our best at the turnip...have you ever tried to carve a turnip?! Its proper hard and no empty seed cavities like our modern pumpkins…I can see why they’ve taken favour!
(pic from Halloween Fandom)
This year with Covid putting a dampener on Halloween celebrations a lot of people are worried that Halloween is ruined but growing up in our house we never did trick or treating and it was still such craic, just the best memories!
We did the typical 90s kids thing of throwing a black binliner over us and using a tea towel to cover our faces and pretended we were ghosts. We would’ve tied apples to a long string and attached it to the door frame with a nail and holding our hands behind our back you had to try and catch the apple and take a bite out of it. You daren’t cheat by using your hands or your shoulder…the screams of objection would have been too much to bear! Another apple game was apple bobbing…we put three or four apples into a basin of cold water and you had to put your face into the water and try to retrieve one of the apples. Imagine the shared salvia in either game!!….unthinkable in the days we’re in!
Sparklers provided endless fun, writing your name in the dark. Fireworks were always put on by the more well off relatives…! We never went to the big displays or bonfires. We made our own craic at home. Sitting out on the back porch in the black of night telling ghost stories to see who would spook first. Sounds menial but when you’re a kid, even the simplest things can bring the greatest of joy.
Covid has changed a lot of priorities for everyone this year, throughout the globe. The only positive I can see from it that it has really made some people take stock and realise what’s important. It’s not the big fancy costumes, the showcasing who has spent the most money on fancy dress or which neighbour has the best spread or goodie bags for the Trick or Treaters…it’s the basics. Spending time with family and friends, building your own heritage and traditions and passing them on to your children.
These things, this ‘cultural heritage’ can seem so frivolous and indeed is often referred to as ‘intangible heritage’ but it’s so much more than that. Traditions give people a sense of belonging, a sense of security and a sense of place. Don’t get caught up on the restrictions and limitations of Halloween during Covid – look at the Halloween your parents and grandparents would have had. Treasure these precious times – who knows, it could ignite a new generation of traditions.
Predictably, one of the other things I can remember so vividly about Halloween in our house was the baking. Mum always did ‘purdy pudding’ (purdy is an old Ulster Scots word for potato – I’ll do more on that in a few weeks). But the other one she would have made without fail was Apple Tart. I would have used her left over pastry to make my own tarts in a wee saucer and given it to daddy – it’s one of the first things I ever made to bake and it still brings back such fond, fond memories of wee mummy. Enjoy this one – start a new tradition on your house with it this year 😊
Traditional Apple Tart
4 small brambly apples
150g caster sugar
For the Pastry:
225g butter (chilled)
55g caster sugar
350g plain flour
1 medium egg
Sugar to dust the top
What to do:
1. Peel and thinly slice the apples into a large saucepan. Add the sugar and cook over a medium heat until stewed. Don’t boil down to mush, you want some larger chunky bits left.
2. Once stewed place into a large bowl to cool completely.
Make the pastry:
3. Place the butter, sugar and flour into a food processor and blitz until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the egg. Blend again until the mixture just starts to bind. Don’t overmix as it will make the pastry tough.
4. Tip the dough out onto your workspace and bring together using your hands. Flatten into a disk and place into the fridge to chill for at least an hour. (You can make the pastry by hand if you don’t have a food processor – mix the butter into the flour and sugar with your fingertips until like fine breadcrumbs. Then incorporate the egg using a large metal spoon until it starts to come together).
5. Preheat your oven to 140oC
6. Lightly grease a pie dish or shallow oven proof dinner plate with some oil. Lightly flour and shake off any excess. Set aside until needed.
7. Remove the pastry from the fridge. Use 2/3 for the base and set the remaining 1/3 aside for the top.
8. The pastry will be quite stiff from the fridge so work with it until it just starts to become slightly pliable. Lightly flour your work bench and roll the pastry out evenly until it’s about 1.5mm thick. Using your rolling pin to help you, lift the rolled pastry onto your greased dish. Tear off a tiny bit of the overhanging pastry and use it to press the base gently into the dish. Using a knife, trim off any overhanging pastry.
9. Place the stewed apples in the centre of your base. Leave about an inch from the edge and don’t be tempted to overfill as it will spill out during baking!
10. Take the remaining spare pastry and the 1/3 left over and combine, again working until just pliable. Lightly flour your bench again and roll out the lid for your tart.
11. Use a pastry brush to wet the edge of the base to help seal the lid to the base. Using your rolling pin to help you, lift the pastry lid on top of the apples and use your thumb to gently press the edges together to seal. Trim off any excess pastry.
12. Create a crimp around the edge of the tart by pinching the pastry gently between your two forefingers. Work your way around the edge until the whole tart is sealed. Trim off any rough edges.
13. Brush an egg wash over the top of your pie. Using a fork, prick a few steam holes in the top of the pie.
14. Place in a preheated oven at 140oC for 25-30 minutes until the pastry is golden brown and cooked through
15. Sprinkle with caster sugar on top of the tart as soon as it is removed from the oven. Leave it to cool before cutting.