Spending time with my grandmom meant exotic trips on the bus, BLT's with Lipton Ice Tea, dart games, sewing lessons, poker lessons, late nights watching The Twilight Zone with Grandpop, card games, and best of all, jam tarts.
The recipe is simple. Pie Crust, Jam, Powdered Sugar.
I never asked her how she came to learn how to make the tarts. My feeling is that she invented the recipe. According to my mother, Grandmom learned how to make pie crust by watching a demonstration at Macy's. According to my grandmother, this version of the story is bullshit. However, she didn't tell me where she learned to make pie crust after debunking this myth, and I didn't think to ask her if she invented the tarts just at that moment. We probably went back to watching the television at 500 decibel levels.
I have made these tarts time and time again throughout my life, and they have served me well. So simple! Such big crowd pleasers! When I was a nanny, these saved my sanity on many a rainy afternoon, and as I guided little fingers, showing them how to pinch a pie crust, I thought of my grandmother guiding my fingers along the edges, or showing me just how much jam each tart needed. I loved her so.
Over the years I have played around with the original recipe with great success - sometimes frosting them instead of sifting the powdered sugar over them, or putting home made fudge sauce in the centers instead of jam. Never once have they tasted bad.
My friend Beth is pregnant right now, and since Zoe, the little parasite, is demanding fruity pastries from her carrier, I made a batch of strawberry tarts for Christmas especially for their consumption.
Ooh, stylized frosting instead of sifted powdered sugar or a blanket of frosting.... oooh.
I made a promise to make cookies in the new year with a family I refer to in my head as "The Five Little P-------s and How They Grew", and have been waffling on what kinds of cookies to make with them - but as I made the strawberry tarts this Christmas, it occurred to me that it would be ridiculous not to include these in our menu that day. In my opinion, they are the perfect food. Easy to make, fun to share the making of, and most important, delighful to eat, even if one didn't participate in the making of.
My Grandmom taught me a lot of things, but somehow I feel the most connection with her memory when I make the tarts. From the moment I take out my pastry cloth, it is summertime on Ramsey Street, and I am laying on the orange shag rug in the attic loft, trying to see how long I can stand the heat before I come downstairs to the blasting A/C, or I am sprawled out on the bed reading Life In These United States in all the Readers' Digests that litter every room. Sometimes I am running to the kitchen to find a pack of cards for Rummy 500 or thumbing through brightly colored bobbins, but most of all, I am looking forward to jam tarts after dinner.