I’ve just celebrated another birthday rolling around. Time spent with lovely people, delicious food and lots of happy moments.
I’ve also been thinking of another that is no longer here.
Thinking of my grandfather who left me with a head full of happy memories, that I frequently bring out and go through. Flicking through those memories like a well worn scrap book, with mental scribbles, loved pictures and happy moments.
Ours was a shared birthday. It was always such a special feeling knowing that our birthday was on the same day. Giving me a loving connection with the grandfather I adored.
A man, who to me always smelt like smoked apple wood, and occasionally raw onions as he loved them on sandwiches.
He had a sweet tooth for certain things, introducing me to sugar coated jubes that would get soft and squishy in the car. There were scoops of vanilla icecream with spoonfuls of his home made jam on top. He also knew answers to more trivia questions than I could ever hope to know in a lifetime. Answers would roll off his tongue like a well rehearsed dialogue. No pause for thought as the reply seemed so easily retrieved.
Big boxes of locally grown apples would be brought by him when ever he came to visit, followed by bulging jars of loose change to be carefully counted and divided amongst the grandchildren. Counting was always my job, as I was the eldest. Every cent was divided up and then we could spend it in any way we wanted.
He was there when I first rode my bike. He was also there, teaching me to dive in the pool during summer. Tuck the feet in, tuck the feet in…
We would go to visit and on his arriving home after a long day, we would hear the sounds of his footsteps coming up the stairs.
Clomp, clomp, clomp…
The stairs always lasted forever as he continued stepping on the same few top stairs, making it sound like they were ten stories high. Building up the excitement, my siblings and I giggling with anticipation of him being so close. Long squashed hugs would follow, as we would all scramble for his attention.
In his last year, while he was sick, I got to tell him that I had met the man I was going to marry. This comforts me in a funny kind of way. Even though he didn’t get to be at my wedding or get to know any of his great grandchildren, he at least got a glimpse of the path I was about to head down. A path, I think that would have made him incredibly happy.
As long as I have these special memories and a hundred others, he will always be with me. Not mourned over for his loss, or the unfairness of a life taken away too soon but celebrating in the life that he did have. A life that I got to share a little part of, which I’m incredibly grateful for those years, and those birthdays we did get to share together.
…and I also think he would have quite liked a slice of this birthday berry tart.
Drawing from my last years ‘a rather tall birthday cake‘ and also inspired by a gorgeous recipe from Jamie Oliver’s ‘Jamie does…cookbook‘. This little number was the result.
Berry Meringue Tart
Pastry (recipe here) base can be cooked the day before. Pastry pricked all over and then baked blind for 20 minutes at 180C in a greased tart pan (the kind that pops out is good) and then a further 10 minutes uncovered. Pastry should be crisp and golden.
Meringue (recipe here) clusters baked on a tray at 130C until crisp all over, this will take an hour plus. (I used 4 egg whites/220g sugar.)
Mascarpone vanilla bean cream. Whip 300mls cream to soft peaks, then add 1/2 cup icing sugar and one scraped vanilla bean pod. Add 250g mascarpone and gently whip again until mixed through.
Berries- strawberries, blueberries and cherries.
Smooth out several spoonfuls of the mascarpone mixture on to the base of the cooked pastry. This will help the meringue stick a little. Break the meringue up and build a decent sized layer, Spoon the remainder of the mascarpone mixture all over, filling in any meringue holes and then cover with your favourite berries. Dust with a little icing sugar.