Wednesday, 8 April 2009


image  One day recently I noticed a whole lot of green balls hanging from a tree at Glenys' s and went to see what they were. Some of the green balls had split open at the bottom and there, about to fall out of each ball, was a walnut. I was so excited and started gathering them up until I had more than I could carry and went to get a basket. I have written a lot of stuff about vegetables and fruit so it may surprise you to know that I have never seen walnuts growing before. Lots of people have shown me their walnut trees but never when they have had walnuts on them and friends have given me walnuts from their trees, but I have never actually seen them growing.  image

Later I found a nut cracker and openned a couple and found them to be full and nicely coloured but very soft. Then I was worried I had picked them too soon. But how could this be so when they were falling out already? Anyway that was a week or so ago and I hadn't eaten any more since. Then it was coming up to Wednesday gardening and it was my turn to cook.... and I thought about the fantastically delicious walnut tarts I had eaten in France..... and I noticed I had a couple of recipes, one in French in a book I had bought in France and the other in Stephanie Alexander's book "Cooking and Travelling in South West France", in English. So I decided to make a sort of combination of the two. I tried another couple of walnuts and now they had hardened up and were perfect. Today was the day I made walnut tart, my way.....

I don't know why but I was quite restless all night, and this darn walnut tart was on my mind. So, once it was getting light I got up and thought ..... well if I make it early and it is awful then I will have time to make something else before the garden girls arrive. First thing to do was to crack open the walnuts, enough to make 300g. Well, as it turned out, first thing was to find some scales to weigh them...and it took me a while to work out how to adjust these giant, old-style scales I eventually found....and then I realised I didn't have a flan dish...or a measuring jug..... oh, the things you don't think of when you are at someone else's house....

I turned on the radio, sat at the kitchen table in my pj's and began the little job of getting 300g of walnuts assembled.... I thought I might be getting close at one stage..... but the scales said no.... so on and on I went and time ticked by.... At somewhere around 45 minutes of work my hands were getting sore from the sharp bits of shell and I was getting hungry so I had breakfast, got dressed, tidied the place up a bit then got back to work. It took me a good hour to shell 300g walnuts! A few were black and they were all quite small, but I had not bargained on so much time to complete step 1 of the recipe. Actually the recipe just said 300g walnuts, and did not even mention all the work involved in getting thus far, including the picking and shelling. Slow food.... is slow.

Time to make the pastry. Now, I love making pastry so no problem..... but it was a little different to the method I usually use and I had to keep putting my glasses on and reading the recipe again and again and by now it was far too late to contemplate making something else. Then I couldn't find a rolling pin so I did the French thing and used a bottle of wine! This recipe also said bake blind which means lining the pastry-lined flan dish with greaseproof paper and filling it with dried peas and beans and cooking it for a while before taking all that out and pouring in the filling. I don't usually bother with baking blind....I am a lazy cook, but this is a special French recipe and I thought I would do it. Problem..... no dried beans..... so I though I would be clever (hahahaha). I had plenty of pastry so I just flopped the excess over the rim of the flan dish (all I could find actually was a cake tin) to stop it all falling into the centre as it heated in the oven.....Never ever try this!.... So now I had a big, soggy mess of hot pastry to sort out!!

Although it was very cold this morning, by this time I was very hot and bothered and just working in my short sleeves. After a lot of tricky manoeuvring I got all sides of the pastry to stay put at once but it was very soggy and uncooked. Undaunted, I soldiered on making the filling, changing it to make it more like those I had so enjoyed in France but ashamed to even use "France" together with my hopeless version, in the same breath! It was hard to measure small quantities of ingredients on scales meant to weigh about 15kg of produce..... but it was all I had and anyway this was a tart not a sponge cake so it should be ok....

After the recommended cooking time of 45 minutes, it was nicely browned, and the pastry was mostly doing the right thing..... sort of.... but it was still unset. Of course.... mine was all cramped up in a cake time, with horrible soggy, raw pastry so it was bound to take longer. Eventually I did Sally's trick.... turn the oven off, leave the tart/ cake/ whatever/ in the oven and let it sort itself out while you get on with the gardening.

image Half an hour before we were due to eat, I removed the tart from the oven and I couldn't believe my eyes.... surely this was not my walnut tart! This tart was perfect.....and the kitchen smelled so good and the pastry..... oo la la la..... flaky, lightly browned and probably the best pastry I have ever made! I dusted the filling lightly with icing sugar to disguise the rough bits and in they all came, the garden group girls I mean..... and gazed in awe at my masterpiece.... and after the first mouthful..... silence.... then those sounds people make when eating something really really good......mmmmmmmm, oohhhhhh, wowwwww.....

And you know..... I never told them about the near disaster...and that it took me 3 hours to make it..... and unless they read this, they will never know..... they just think I am so good at walnut tarts.... promise you won't say a word.....


chaiselongue said...

It sounds and looks delicious, Kate. I remember seeing a lot of walnuts on trees when I was in the part of south-west France where you were and it's definitely a speciality of that region. I'm glad you've found my recipe blog - I wasn't hiding it from you! The link has been there for months!!!

BevB said...

Hi Kate,
Your Walnut Tart sounds delicious :-)
We had a huge walnut tree on the farm where I grew up in Victoria. Every year we would pick up the fallen nuts and spread them out on a large timber shelf in one of the sheds to "air". While they were airing we used to regularly turn them and remove the outer hulls as they became easier to get off, and of course test a few to see if they were ready to eat. Mum used to to make Date & Walnut Loaf, but mostly we just ate them as we cracked them.


PJS said...


Another great thing to do with walnuts is make green walnut jam, here is a recipe for it

Barbara said...

Isn'y it great when things just
WORK! By the way, when I was
a kid, my best friend had a
walnut tree in her back yard
and it never occured to me that
was where walnuts came from + so
it's not just you!

Anonymous said...

Hi Kate,
your walnut cake was absolutely the best thing I have tasted in a long time!We ate the remainder with our friend Michael and you should know it got rave reviews,
thanks for going to all the trouble,
P.s. the goats like to eat the husks!