A happy mistake

My son talks a lot. This is hardly surprisingly – I’ve talked to him non-stop since he was a newborn. It’s now payback time, as her natters away and fires questions at me continuously.

What I am constantly amazed at is his level of comprehension. I’ve now turned in to one of those parents who spells out words to other adults for fear of repetition or the dreaded ‘why’ or ‘how’ question.

Truth be told, there is a whole list of things I’m doing as a parent that I never dreamed I’d do pre-child. I cringe at some of my judgemental statements/thoughts before becoming a mum.

One of the big things I’d underestimated was what an impact our words – both intentional and unintentional – can have on a child. They literally hang on every word and remember everything.

He was asking me about Tiger Woods during the sports news the other night. When I said that Mum didn’t like him very much, of course the question was, “why?”. “Because” was never going to suffice, but was a good holder as I thought of something appropriate to say. “Because he’s not a very nice person.” “Why Mum?” “Because he did some nasty things.” “What did he do Mum?”. And so the inquisition went on. I settled on, “he told lies and was mean to his family”. This seemed to be enough and the conversation ended with, “wees don’t like him do we Mum?”

I thought about our conversation for a few days. The topic matter wasn’t as important as the manner in which I responded. It occurred to me how easy it is to condition our children, which can be as negative as it can be positive. If I want my son to grow to be enquiring with a mind of his own, that journey begins now. Sure, I have strong views on Tiger Woods – should I be imposing them on Master Three?

It’s made me think. How do I help him grow into a respectful young man who largely makes the ‘right’ choices at important junctions? You know what, I’m not sure I know. Do most parents muddle along like I do and hope they are doing their best? I guess time will tell whether I get it right or not.

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One thing I’m more confident about is thinking that most people like a good apple dessert. Today’s is a little flasher than some, but is still easy to make. It is said that Tart Tatin was first made by the Tatin Sisters, one of whom forgot to put the pastry into the pan so added it at the end and turned the tart upside down when cooked. And a legend and dessert was born.

A heavy bottom fry pan is essential – the heavier the better. Cast iron is brilliant, although can be very heavy to turn.

What you’ll need

Sheet of puff pastry, defrosted (or block of pastry rolled)

120g caster sugar – set aside 1 Tbsp

60g butter, roughly cubed

4-5 medium/large apples, eg. Braeburn, Gala (not Granny Smith)

½ lemon

20-22cm (ish) heavy bottom fry pan, suitable for cook top and oven

To make it

Turn oven to 200°C.

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Cut pastry to slightly larger than the pan (top). Prick pastry all over and put into the fridge until required. Sometimes I don’t bother cutting into a round and tuck the pastry in for a more rustic look.

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Put the sugar and butter into the fry pan. Heat until the butter has melted and sugar is beginning to caramelise (just starting to colour). ‘Shake’ the pan from side to side rather than stir the sugar.

Meanwhile, peel and quarter the apples and put into a bowl. Sprinkle with the sugar you’ve set aside and a squeeze of lemon juice (this is to avoid apple browning).

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Cook the sugar and butter until the colour begins to change and the sugar largely dissolved.

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Add the apples to the pan (cut side up) in a uniform pattern around the pan. Cut any remaining apples to fill the spaces. Put in as snuggly as possible as apples will shrink during cooking. I ran out of apples in this one, thus the gaps!

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Cook for about 10-15 minutes until sugar mixture further caramelises and apples soften. ‘Shake’ or tip pan from time to time to prevent sugar from catching. (Don’t be tempted to touch or taste the caramel mixture – it will burn you!) Note that this step can take longer. Last night, mine took 20 minutes and the toffee was lovely and thick.

Take pan off heat. At this point, you can add another flavour if you like – last night I added some crushed fennel seeds. Sometimes I use cinnamon.

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Lay pastry over the top of the apples, tucking the edges into the pan. Put the pan into the oven and cook for about 20 minutes, until pastry is golden and risen.

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Remove from oven and stand for 10 minutes or so.

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Turn carefully out onto a serving plate. I place the plate over the pan, then wrap a tea towel around the lot – then turn quickly. Serve with cream and icecream.

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I find my tarte tatin is slightly different each time I make it. It tends to depend on the variety of apples I use and how long the caramelisation process takes. One thing remains constant and that’s taste – it’s always delicious. I’m glad the Tatin Sisters made their mistake all those years ago. (I’m not anyone will say the same about our friend Tiger though!)

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