My great-grandfather became a widower in the same year that I was born. He could never have been considered a progressive character so you can imagine my family's intense surprise when a man who had been waited on hand-and-foot, by either his mother or his wife, since his birth in 1908 taught himself to cook. Not only did he teach himself to cook, he transformed himself into a good cook and a good baker.
I remember being treated to his extraordinarily good cakes on a Sunday morning, on my way home from my riding lessons, sitting in the living room of his bungalow. He made all sorts, but my particular favourite was coconut tart: pastry, raspberry jam, and a sticky-gooey coconut mixture on top.
My great-grandfather died 20 years ago and I've not eaten coconut tart since. Until this weekend. In December I managed to conquer an iconic family dish that no one had cooked since my grandfather had died. (It was, in fact, the only thing that he could cook, but he did it better than anyone else I know.) This gave me heart to attempt something that I've missed for a very long time, but never quite believed that I could pull off. When Ma requested it for her birthday, I couldn't really refuse.
The recipe is based on one found in Florence Greenberg's Cookery Book. It's almost certainly the recipe my great-grandfather would have used; the book used to belong to my great-grandmother. It is faded and crumbling, but an absolutely no-nonsense collection of recipes devised for cash-strapped families living in London's East End in the first half of the twentieth century. Sure I do it differently, but then I prefer butter to margarine and I have the extra egg to spare when I make pastry. Still, it works whichever way you go about it.
Start with the pastry. I have no problem admitting that I'm not a terribly good pastry-maker. I do it in a food processor so that I can avoid handling it too much. Pulse together the butter and flour with a pinch of salt until it resembles breadcrumbs. Then steadily add the beaten egg through the funnel until the dough begins to come together. You might not need all of the egg - be careful.
The dough probably won't come together completely, so tip it out and finish it with your hands. Then wrap it in cling film and leave it to chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
The filling takes about two minutes, so you can either get on with something else or sit down for half an hour whilst the dough chills.
Just before you start to roll the pastry, set your oven to heat to 190° Celsius (425° Fahrenheit). I've taken to rolling out dough between two pieces of cling film, rather than flouring up a surface and turning myself into some kind of abominable flour monster. Do it however you prefer to roll out the pastry so that it'll line a 20cm (8 inch) pie plate.
Line your pie plate with the pastry.
Spread a generous layer of jam or marmalade over the pastry. If you're using lime marmalade, it needs to be sharp rather than sweet. You might want to add a bit of lime zest to enliven it.
Then melt the butter and add it to the caster sugar, the desiccated coconut, and the two beaten eggs. Mix thoroughly and then pour over the jammy pastry base.
Put the tart straight into the oven and cook for about 30 minutes, or until the coconut topping is risen and golden brown.
This is good eaten warm (not hot), but it's even better left for a day in an airtight container. The coconut topping goes that bit gooier.
Music to cook to: A collection of Mozart's overtures