I have been accused of being tart at times (not to be confused with being a tart, which is something else entirely). It’s true, I do have a sharp and cutting tongue which can be unpleasant for those unaccustomed to it. “Tart” is another one of those slippery words in English which refers to many things, and the listener is expected to understand which from context. I’m not certain how a bottom crusted pastry with shallow sides became associated with prostitution (leave it to the British), but what I do know is that tarts are delicious. Pastry in general is of course excellent, but within the pastry club there are more well heeled representatives than others, and the tart is one of them. It embodies the fine points of pastry for me when made well–flaky rich buttery crust, fresh fruit lightly seasoned and preferably not sweetened, heaven.
Tart also refers to a flavor family, a pungent, biting, or sour taste. Some of the best tarts are made with tart fruits such as lemons and limes. Something about the tart makes it an ideal summer food, especially cold dessert tarts. I had a strawberry rhubarb a few weeks ago that was divine, perfectly flaky dough and elegantly seasoned filling on a warm summer day (only ice cream could have improved the situation, to be truthful). While I adore pie, sometimes the tart is simply more fitting, especially when presented in tartlet form. And in warm weather, for me, it’s all about the tart. Especially lemon tarts.
Pie is a winter and fall dish, hearty, filling, and delightfully satisfying. Pie is what you make from fall apples, with solid pastry and a rich array of spices. Tarts are dainty, gracious, sometimes presented in individual servings on elegant platters. Pie can be homely and comforting, whereas the tart is a somewhat more aloof member of the pastry family, one which can be gussied (or tarted, if you will) up for fancy occasions or left more rustic for casual dining. For the inbetween times, you may choose to make a lattice top pie, thus bridging the pastry gap, so to speak.
In addition to dessert tarts, one can also have savory tarts, and I recently consumed a fine example of the species at the Bistro. It was an onion tart, one of my favourites in the savory category. The onions had been slightly carmelized and the sweet onion-ness blended with the creamy cheeses in the tart and the flaky, delicately layered crust to perfection. The tart was presented with asparagus spears in a red wine reduction sauce, which complemented the tart most excellently. It inspired me to do more baking, as I had forgotten the joys of a savory tart and was determined to rectify that omission.
The tart also caused me to muse about etymology–in short, which meaning of the word “tart” came into use first? I can imagine one using tart to describe the flavour and turning that description to the personality, as one describes someone as “looking as though they are sucking on a lemon.” In turn, I can also readily imagine referring to a family of pastries as “tarts” because they are frequently made from tart fruits and vegetables. But who made the leap from flavour/attitude/food to prostitution, when, and why?
Mysterious. Will wonders never cease?