How does the saying go… “never let the truth spoil a good story”?
The recipe I want to share with you this week has evolved from a rather good story in regard to the true origins of a well-known recipe for a dish known as Tarte Tatin.
I have read several versions of how the Tarte Tatin came into being, and let me say two things at the outset. Not for the first time has a cooking disaster, error or mistake been turned into something great.
Secondly, I firmly believe you should never make an apology for the food you have served, be it to friends over dinner, or a regular family meal. The later scenario only sets up an awkward situation whereby in response to your ‘confession’ that the meal could have been better, your diners will feel a need to say “Oh no, it is all perfectly fine” just to stroke your ego and soothe you. I say just zip the lips and simply enjoy the food and company round the table.
As with most legends there are variations on the truth. The now famous upside-down apple tart we have come to know as Tarte Tatin may have indeed been the result of a near-accident in the kitchen.
Two sisters, Caroline and Stephanie ran a small hotel in France, about 160 kilometres west of Paris in the village of Lamotte-Beuvron, in the 1880s. It is said that Stephanie, who did most of the cooking, accidently left the apples cooking too long, verging on burning them in the sugar, butter sauté pan.
She tried to rescue the ingredients (as you do), whisking them off the heat, popping a disc of pastry on top and simply cooking the lot in the oven, which would only have taken minutes to cook the pastry. Makes good economic sense to me. I hate wasting food!
Turning the tart out onto a serving platter, the hotel guests quite enjoyed the ‘upside down’ apple tart – and bear in mind that fruit tarts such as this were already known. Indeed back in 1841 the then celebrity chef Antonin Carême referenced glazed gâteaux renversés in his recipe book.
The sisters did not claim fame for the apple tart in their own lifetimes. It was some 30 years after their deaths that a food writer Curnonsky visited the hotel, wrote about the dish, which I’m sure was a long-standing signature dish on the hotel’s menu, calling it Tarte Tatin.
Another legend tells of the owner of Maxims, a very famous French hotel. Louis Vaudable, having visited the Hotel Tatin, tasted the signature apple dessert and was so taken with the delicious tart that he conjured up his own story about how he managed to get the ‘secret’ recipe.
His early attempts to seek out the secret of the tart by asking the kitchen staff were unsuccessful, so he somehow managed to be hired as a gardener for the hotel. It was pretty apparent that he certainly didn’t have green thumbs and was fired, but in his short employment of three days, he managed to gain access to the coveted recipe, adding it to his own Maxim’s Hotel dinner menu as ‘tarte des demoiselles Tatin’.
I’m pleased he at least had the decency to acknowledge the sisters. The only trouble with Louis’ story timeframe was that the sisters retired in 1906 and died in 1911 and 1917. The Vaudable family only purchased Maxims Hotel in 1932. Go figure.
We all love a good story with neatly tied loose ends, but equally a sense of mystery is also a handy ingredient for any storyteller.
I have given the dish another twist by substituting tomatoes for the apples. The inspiration for this dish was borne out of a beautiful luncheon created by Marieke Brugman many years ago, but with my own little additions. This is still one of my favourite summer lunch recipes, especially whilst the tomatoes are so delicious.
Please enjoy a tomato upside-down tart!