It’s been so hot this summer. And so dry. The driest summer in Eastern Ontario since 1888. It reminds me of my years in Australia – especially the drought years when the heat seeped up from the floorboards and down from the attic, filling every crack, every corner of the house, while outside the yard baked under the intense Australian sun.
We were young then, in those Australian years. And we lived in a series of odd, old flats and beaten-up, weatherboard houses – all of them uninsulated and without air conditioning. During the heat waves, time stood still as we waited for the cool changes to come through and for life to resume again. We lived on takeaway fish and chips, cold cereal, and Vegemite sandwiches. At night we listened to cicadas and the whirr of fans moving the hot air from one place to the next. We laid cold, wet towels on the children’s beds to keep them cool. In the mornings, as we left the house, the sunshine was so intense it was like stepping into the blast of heat from opening the oven door and we’d crisscross the street to maximize our time in the shade.
For years we yoyo-ed back and forth between Canada and Australia – our lives, our hearts – divided between the two places. Those children, just babies in Australia, are both beautiful women in their twenties now. And somehow, Kingston grew to be our permanent home. It’s only now, during this hot, dry, so Australian-like summer, that I can’t help remembering what used to be.
Along my walking route, with its parched brown grass and dying trees, I keep expecting to see kangaroos. Instead there are dozens of rabbits trying to find something tender and green to eat. Yesterday the drought which started in May, finally broke with a sweet, slow, steady day-long rain. All day I kept checking to see if the grass had noticed.
Today, in celebration of yesterday’s rain and the fresh breeze that blew in with it, I decided to spend some time in the kitchen and produced this simple, elegant, pear and almond tart.
Pressed crusts are so easy and accommodating and such a great compromise between pastry and cake. Delicate in flavour – this tart really needs no adornment – and perhaps that’s best in order to allow the gentle pear and almond their deservedly starring roles. That said, I served it with dollops of lightly sweetened whipped cream.
Pressed Crust Pear and Almond Tart
- 1/2 cup butter (or margarine for dairy-free version)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- I cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp baking powder
- 1 large egg
- 3 medium ripe pears, peeled, cored, and sliced
- 1/4 cup slivered almonds, browned in a little butter over low heat for a few minutes
- 2 tbsp raw cane, Demerara, turbinado, or brown sugar
- 1/4 cup apricot jam
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- whipped cream and salted caramel sauce to serve
- Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a flan dish or tart pan. Mine, about 10 inches in diameter (??), has a removable rim which makes life very easy.
- Cream the butter and white sugar. Add the egg and beat to incorporate.
- Combine the flour, salt, and baking powder and add to the creamed mixture. Add an extra tablespoon or two of flour as necessary to form a very soft dough.
- Press the dough into the prepared pan. Top with sliced pears. Add browned almonds (note I only thought of browning the almonds after I made this – but it would bring out their flavour).
- Sprinkle with 2 tbsp raw sugar.
- Bake for about 35-4o minutes. Remove when the crust is brown and set. Let cool.
- In a small Pyrex bowl or measuring cup, warm the apricot jam and lemon juice together until jam is melted. Brush over tart.
- Serve with whipped cream. And maybe some salted caramel sauce.