As a child we would frequently drive way out in the countryside on Sunday afternoons to visit family. My aunt and uncle owned an apple orchard, and as soon as the car pulled into their long dirt driveway my brother and I would run out into the trees, without even so much as a “Hello!” to my aunt who was waiting at the front door. I used to love to skip between the rows of trees, imagining I was Dorothy on the yellow brick road – and there was always a dog around to play the part of Toto.
In the spring, when the branches were covered in blossoms and the orchard smelled fresh and was carpeted in wildflowers, we’d forage for the wild asparagus that grew in the shade. My grandmother, my mother, my aunt and myself all down on our hands and knees, combing through the tall grass in search of those tender green stalks.
In summer, when the trees baked in the hot sun and the grass turned golden and crunched beneath our feet, we’d pick up the fallen apples from from the ground and toss them at one another, pretending the sneaky trees had come to life and were throwing them at us like they did in the movie.
We’d pretend the trees had faces, tracing our fingers over imagined eyes and noses hidden in the patterns of the bark. This one is friendly, we declared, he’s smiling. This one, not so much. Look at that scowl! Children can find faces in almost anything!
I decided that I wanted an apple orchard, too, when I grew up, and used to imagine setting up a stand on the side of the road. In the spring I’d sell asparagus and wildflowers; in the fall, apples, over-flowing from baskets onto the red-checkered table cloth.
When the sun started to set and it was time to leave for home, I’d say goodbye to my favourite trees – the ones with the friendly faces, and feel a little sad watching them fade into the distance as we drove down the dirt road that led to the highway. But by the time the city lights came into view, my brother and I had already forgotten about the trees and were planning our next blanket fort or flashlight adventure or cardboard box slide on the front staircase.
It seems childlike now, but that’s how I feel as apple season comes to an end. It’s like saying goodbye to a trusty kitchen comrade – one who has been present at my table since last October. Of course, I know that soon my mind will be distracted by fresh asparagus or rhubarb, and then the first strawberries will come along. Then cherry season – and I always go a little crazy during cherry season! Of course, peach crisp will be next, and plum clafoutis, and I won’t even start to think about apples again until mid-September. But goodbyes are always hard at first. This tart is my farewell bid to apple season. It’s a classic French Apple Tart flavoured with rich, spiced rum. I’ve made it over and over this winter and it works especially well with late season apples.
Rum Apple Tart
for the shortcrust pastry:
1 1/4 cups flour
1 TBSP sugar
1/4 tsp salt
8 TBSP butter, cut into small cubes
2 – 3 TBSP ice water
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
for the filling:
3 large, firm apples, peeled, cored and cut into chunks
2 TBSP sugar
1/4 cup water
2 TBSP spiced Rum
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon zest
for the top:
3 apples, peeled, cored & sliced very thin
1 Tbsp melted butter
1 TBSP vanilla sugar
1 TBSP clear apple jelly (apricot jam works well, too)
1 tsp spiced rum
lemon (juiced and sliced and added to a bowl of water)
To make the pastry, mix the flour, sugar & salt in a mixing bowl. Mix the water and vinegar together in a small bowl. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut the butter into the flour until the mixture is the texture of damp sand. Mix in the water, a tablespoon at a time, until the dough just comes together. Form the dough into a disk and wrap it in plastic wrap. Refrigerate while you make the filling.
To make the filling, place the apples, sugar, water, vanilla and lemon in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer until the apples are very tender, about 20 minutes. Mash the apples with a fork and stir in the rum. Allow to cool to room temperature.
For the topping, slice the apples thinly and place in a bowl of water with a little lemon juice and sliced lemon to prevent browning.
Preheat the oven to 400 F (200 C). Place the dough on a floured surface and roll into a circle just large enough to fit into an 11-inch/28-cm tart pan with removable bottom. Transfer the dough to the pan and press into the sides. Fold over any overhang to reinforce the edges. Place the pan in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
Prick the bottom of the tart crust all over with a fork. Spread the filling into it. Arrange the sliced apples on top in concentric circles that slightly overlap, starting from the outside edge and working inwards. Brush the apples with the melted butter and sprinkle with the vanilla sugar.
Place the tart in the oven and bake at 400 F for 15 minutes (to set the crust), then turn the oven to 350 F (175C) and finish baking for another 30 – 40 minutes, until the apples are tender and browned. (If the apples are not brown enough you can place the tart under the broiler for a few seconds. Watch it carefully.)
Place the apple jelly and the rum in a small bowl and heat in the microwave until just warm. Stir together and then brush over the top of the tart. Cool and serve.