The time of roses


In England, last summer

There was a time long ago when summer never seemed to end. A time when the six week break from school seemed interminable, a time when days were filled with nothingness and I was unable to sleep at night because the evenings were so light and I was sent to bed fairly early. Back then, I would spend many days at my grandparents' house (the parents of my Mum) while my parents were working. It was the same house my mother grew up in. Behind the garden with a greenhouse filled with tomatoes and old newspapers (a mania of my grandfather's - don't ask!), fields stretched as far as the eye could see. I used to love to climb over the fence to run through the long grass. It reminded me of waves in the sea when it swayed with the summer breeze. There were the delicate colours of the wild flowers and the shady spots under the trees where I liked to sit and make daisy chains.

Apparently, my grandfather was extremely popular with my brothers. They loved him for his charming eccentricity, humour and willingness to play non-stop cricket. But I always preferred my grandmother. She had wavy white hair, thick rimmed glasses, shapely legs and the softest skin which reminded me of the yellow roses she grew. I loved to whisper to her, play secret games together and make fun of my brother always warming his feet above the gas fire. I often think back to one Sunday in autumn when my mother drove us out somewhere in her mustard Cortina. I snuggled up close to her as we looked out at the countryside and then suddenly there was the sadness at having to return already and the thought that the next day would be a school day. Frustratingly, I have so few memories of that afternoon that was to be so important for me but there is just the final impression of looking back out of the car to see my grandparents standing together after we had dropped them off, waving goodbye.

It was to be the last time I would ever see her because the next day she suffered a massive stroke and died a few days later in hospital. Although I spent other summers with my grandfather, it was never exactly the same. The empty fields I played in gradually were fenced off or used to graze horses and it has been many years since I last went to the house which no longer belongs to us. Most of all, I have always been haunted by the idea of how fragile life is, that nothing can be taken for granted, of keeping memories alive. Perhaps it seems a strange time to be telling you this while we're still in the grip of winter but I've wanted to write this post for quite a while and most of all make a recipe that was dear to my grandmother; an egg custard tart. I never really knew her cooking because she had just changed to a gas oven which wasn't good for baking. But my mother told me about this tart and so in way, I have the feeling of my grandmother looking over my shoulder when making it and continuing a tradition somehow. Most of all, it brings back the memories of hazy summer days when everything was simple and the house was filled with the glow of yellow roses.

Some shots from last weekend during my walk in Schlosspark Charlottenburg. Finally, I felt the warmth of the sun again but the ground was icy and the thaw still seems a little way off.

Egg custard tart (not my grandmother's but I'm sure she would have approved)

For the pastry (from Rose Bakery)

125g cold butter
250g plain flour
60g sugar
2 large eggs plus 1 yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Mix the flour, sugar and butter together with your fingertips to get rough breadcrumbs. Make a well in the centre and add the eggs and the vanilla extract. Mix them in with a fork and finish off by hand until the dough forms a ball. Wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for about an hour.
2. When the time's up, roll out the pastry onto a well floured surface until it fits your pie tin with about 1cm overhanging the edge all around. Brush with egg yolk and prick all over with a fork. Bkae blind in the oven at 180°C for about 15 mins then remove the paper and beans and bake for a further 5 minutes or until golden brown.

For the custard

470ml full fat milk (from jersey cows if possible)
100ml double cream
4 large eggs
50g sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
One and a half nutmegs

1. Heat the milk and cream in a saucepan until barely simmering.
2. Beat the eggs and sugar together in a heatproof jug. Pour over the milk mixture, vanilla and half the nutmeg. Pour the liquid onto the pastry case (it will seem very full but don't worry!) and grate over the rest of the nutmeg. Bake at 170°C for around 30-40 mins or until golden brown with crisp pastry.


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