The summer solstice is fast approaching, and this is food for the denizens of summer, the fair folk of the emerald isle of Tír na nÓg, the faeries. I used to believe in them. I believed in diaphanous winged fay with golden hair, in wizened hobgoblins of the kitchen fire, mean hair pulling pixies and sprites that bite, changeling children, watery sylphs, salacious nymphs, and all the descendants of the fiercely private sidhe. Growing up I left them offerings on my bedside table, bowls of rose petal water and honey sweetened fairy cakes.
As I got older I constructed elaborate metaphysical theories that allowed for the existence of elemental beings that flickered in and out of our plane, passing through like vapor or illusive gravitons, their force felt but rarely seen in this dimension. I grew up by a lake in the woods of north Georgia, and it was easy to believe that faeries lived in the mad rose bushes that flanked our house, the abandoned well in the woods, and the willows that dripped off the banks of the lake. I swore I saw their wings glint, reflected in the green waters. I believed in them for a very long time. I chose to do so. I was in the closet about it, but I believed in them well past the age at which one usually believes in such things. Given, I believed in my own special formulation of them, and I met it with a reverence usually reserved for either science or old time religion. The way I saw it, it was even older time religion. I’ve Irish roots after all.
I still believe in the realm of the fae & its trappings: rose tangled vales, swimming holes, and licentious, balmy nights. I believe in mountain creeks and waterfalls. I believe in cookery and cast iron to keep the evil ones away. I believe in a reality that is of a higher order than the one perceived by mundane consciousness. I believe folklore, art, religion, and science all talk about this reality. And I believe that the concept of faeries illuminate a real experience, and in that sense, I still believe in faeries because I believe in misfortune, small gifts, and the 10,000 joys and sorrows out of our control that make up the life of every human being. Angels, chance, fate, fae. We all believe in something.
Filled with peach curd redolent of roses and topped with a cloud of fresh basil whipped cream and a single nasturtium flower, these faery food tarts celebrate summer in the south: the lightening bugs, juicy peaches, bounty at the market, and the long, sultry evenings. They are unique enough to remind me that life isn’t ever boring, that fruit and the tremulous energy that makes up all matter is itself quite magical, and that the alchemy of a homemade dessert is the province of good witches.
So when you find yourself at the market this summer, pick up some peaches, and if you’re lucky enough to find them (I purchased my nasturtiums from Pocket Farm on Wednesday at the Main Street Market), get yourself some edible flowers. Have one of these tarts outside with a glass of herbal iced tea on a midsummer night and you’ll feel like a veritable Titania or Oberon.
Technical Notes on the Alchemy of Peach & Rosewater Tarts:
• The pastry shell is the one I’ve been using of late, from the wizard himself, Chef Keller. Recipe found here.
• You whip the curd for a healthy amount of time, 20-30 minutes, to get it quite thick. But remember that it will thicken further as it cools. Be tenacious. It’s worth it.
• Ease into the rosewater, maybe starting at as little as 1/4 teaspoon, as a little goes a long way. I was overly zealous the first time (used perhaps a tablespoon?) but happen to be a mad flower eating sort so I didn’t mind, actually liked it. You might mind though, so easy does it and use it to taste. Tasting the curd is fun. Because it is good. So taste until it’s the way you like it.
• Basil whipped cream is wonderful. Make at your own risk. I ate so much straight out of the bowl I was worried I’d have to make more for the tarts. Also, for a less rustic presentation pipe your whipped cream if it pleases you. I, for one, used the “spoon method”.
• While magical decorated with edible flowers, they look lovely with just basil leaves and are delicious with nothing at all. That said, with prettily piped whipped cream and various edible flowers of all colors, these would be excellent fête fare. Can be made as a full size pie, tiny tarts, etc.
Peach Curd and Rosewater Tartlets with Basil Whipped Cream and Nasturtium Flowers
•fully baked buttery pastry shells or short crust of your choosing
for peach curd:
- adapted from Epicurean
- about 3 large peaches peel & pureed about 1 heaping cup of peach puree
- 1/4 tsp – 1 tsp rosewater to taste
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 4 egg yolks
- 5 tablespoons butter
- 1-2 lemons worth of juice 1-3 tablespoons to taste
for basil whipped cream:
- 4-5 large basil leaves torn into pieces
- 1/4 cup 50 g sugar
- 1 cup 240 mL heavy cream
- Peel peaches with a paring knife, remove pit, and puree in a food processor or blender (I use my mini cuisinart) until smooth.
- Make curd. Combine all ingredients except butter in a heat proof bowl and whisk constantly over a pot of simmering water, 20-30 minutes, until thickened & it coats back of wooden spoon. Remove from heat and whisk in butter one tablespoon at a time. Strain curd through a mesh sieve (I skipped this step and didn’t mind, but straining will result in a finer texture) and chill. As noted abovie, it will thicken further as it chills.
- Make whipped cream while the curd chills. Combine sugar and basil leaves in the bowl of a mini food processor and grind until completely combined to make “basil sugar”. This can also be accomplished with a mortar and pestle. Pour cream into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk until soft peaks begin to form and slowly add basil sugar with the mixer running until the sugar is dissolved and you have stiff peaks.
- Fill cooled pastry shells with the curd and either pipe or spoon the basil whipped cream on top. Garnish with edible flowers and basil leaves. Serve at room temperature or chilled.