|Hotel Tatin at Lamotte-Beuvron, France|
Ever since I can remember I have loved apple tart. As a child it was sometimes served with a taste of milk in a small bowl or saucer and at Hallowe’en the pie would hide a buried treasure - a sixpence wrapped in greaseproof paper. Now when I see it on a menu, it’s hard to say no!
Much though I am a fan of that closed, deep-filled pie variety if Tarte Tatin appears on a menu, that’s it. Forget profiterolles or crème brulée, I’ll be making straight for the luscious, caramelised upside down apple tart. Given its gourmet status on many posh restaurant menus, Maxim’s for example, it is hard to believe it was created by accident.
When I bite into a portion, I guess I feel a bit like Marcel Proust tucking into a madeleine and being transported back through time to old memories.
Tarte Tatin brings me back to France and its Région Centre, to Lamotte-Beuvron in fact. I first went there in the early seventies and on a recent holiday to nearby Pierrefitte-sur-Sauldre paid hommage to the birthplace of Tarte Tatin.
Standing opposite the SNCF railway station is the imposing Hotel Tatin, a former hunting lodge. The story has it that at the end of the 19th century the lodge was being run by the Tatin sisters, Stéphanie and Caroline. Stéphanie had a lot to do one day and Caroline is reported to have been chatting to some of the hunters staying at the lodge. Possibly annoyed that she was doing all the work, and wanting to see what her sister was up to, Stephanie left her stove. She forgot about the sliced apples she was cooking for a pie. When she returned the apples had caramelised. Whether though annoyance or inspiration she decided to cover them anyway with some pastry to make a pie, finished it in the oven and served it to her eager diners. By all accounts it went down a treat and has remained with us for over 100 years.
Nowadays, you can find Tarte Tatin on many menus, made with pears or other fruit and even onions. It seems to me that the classic origins of the dish have been lost along with the Tatin appelation or provenance. Tatin seems to be understood as upside down. That’s a pity because it’s a great story.
But all is not lost. The tarte still has its devotees from all around the world. Several hundred of us form part of a Facebook group – The Tantalizing Tarte Tatin Appreciation Society. Will you come and say hello? Bring your own tarte!