Perfection achieved. Circumstances collide in perfect timing.
The other evening I was watching a show called One Strange Rock. National Geographic is telling the history of the earth from the point of view of eight astronauts and how spending long periods of time above the earth had changed their perspective on what an unbelievable set of circumstances had to take place for life to exist here.
A few hours before sitting down to this show, I looked in the refrigerator and noticed a quart of strawberries. They were beginning to show signs of deterioration, soft in spots and discoloring a bit. I cut the entire quart in pieces and set it aside while I prepared a late supper thinking I had a hankering for pie. I searched for my favorite new pie crust recipe among the newspaper clippings of recipes on a shelf in the kitchen. It was similar in ingredients to most pie crusts, but the technique was different. I made the crust as directed and refrigerated it while we ate dinner.
After dinner I decided those strawberries would be the ingredient for my pie, but there weren’t quite enough, so I decided to make a baked strawberry tart instead. The rule for me was that strawberries were primarily served fresh, not center stage in a baked tart or pie. But it was 10PM, we wanted a dessert and all the ingredients were right here in my kitchen.
So I rolled out that perfect crust and placed it gently in my tart pan and set it aside. In the meantime, I got out my number one favorite encyclopedia of cookbooks The Joy of Cooking , and looked up what she would do with strawberries in a pie or tart . Most of the recipes had a marriage of strawberries and rhubarb, which I did not have, so I forged ahead applying what I knew from my own experiences with the Joy of Cooking’s advice. The berries needed to marinate in sugar, tapioca, a bit of orange zest and a splash of lemon juice and vanilla while the oven heated to 400 degrees. A pinch of salt was tossed in as I decided to make a bit of buttery crumb to finish off the top.
At the exact time the oven reached its temperature, I poured the strawberries into the chilled crust, sprinkled on the crumbs and placed it in the oven.The timer went off after 35 minutes, I peeked in and brought it out and set it on the cooling rack. Waiting is difficult. I often consume a cookie warm. Almost any cookie is delicious warm. Tonight we would wait for the tart to cool until its beautiful strawberry juices congealed with the other ingredients.“Who wants a piece?”, I announced as I retrieved the bone china plates from the kitchen cabinet? My brother and husband both came into the kitchen in anticipation. As I eased the tart out of its scalloped collar, I could see something special had happened. I often tell my husband how much I think of alchemy when I am baking. Almost like a beautiful piece of jewelry, I have witnessed the utter pleasure and delight that beautiful pastries and cakes can elicit. Almost all pastries are created from the same simple ingredients but some have been transformed by a knowing hand at a perfect moment in time. This particular strawberry tart was one of those moments. The crust made the sound of something perfectly crisp as I cut a slice for each of us and placed it on the china plates. After I took my first bite I shouted in utter amazement “This is perfection”. Peter and Karl both agreed. All the varied parts of the creation of this tart made the outcome possible; the ingredients that were on hand, the skill of the baker, the way the berries rested in their juices, the prepared refrigerated crust and finally the temperature and length of time it cooked.
Because I had watched One Strange Rock earlier that night, I was struck with how the recipe for our earth and this strawberry tart had something in common. Everything had to collide at the right time and place. Billions of years of coincidences and waiting for that spark of change that forced the right thing to happen created our amazing planet. I am certainly not a scientist, but people always say that baking is a science. I didn’t like science as a student, but I am much more interested in science now. It took me a long time to see it clearly, but now I can even see it in a perfectly prepared strawberry tart.
Sharon Butler Co-Owner