I am obsessed with Northern Irish traybakes and home baking. I’m obviously having some kind of childhood regression, homesickness or strong desire to bring such delicacies to a wider primarily English audience. Basically it makes me sad that there are people have never eaten a fifteen or a top hat until now.
However having introduced several friends and readers to these entry level traybakes and got them hooked on the sugary delights of Norn Irish cuisine, I’ve been leafing through some prized local cookbooks to look for more niche items to feed to them.
Often these books are collected by a local church, parish or community organisation like the WI and while it’s tempting to giggle at the old fashioned recipes involving tinned fruit juice or glace cherries, these pamphlets and books have grown ever more fascinating to me as I’ve been working on Recipes from Brixton Village. Both capture a certain place and community in its time and introduce you to people’s lives through food, conversation and friendliness.
Books like this are a snaphot in time, a glance at history, fashions and people’s celebrations. They tell you as much as family albums and concentrate on home cooking rather than restaurant trends. They welcome you into their community and wider family and they appeal me to much more than the TV tie in cookbooks of recent years, leaving you feeling like you know something about the person who made the food as well as the dish itself.
I think people will enjoy dipping into Recipes from Brixton Village and feeling like they are getting to know the traders through the recipes and Kaylene Alder’s illustrations as much as I enjoy flipping through The Belfast Cook Book by Margaret Bates and seeing the environment my extended family were raised and lived in. I’ve learned things about my Protestant background in Belfast and mid Ulster from the church and WI books I’ve collected recently that I never noticed as a child (mainly that the traybake is a distinctly Prod way of eating…) Food is a very effective way to communicate no matter where you come from.
A recipe that just leapt out at me on this traybake inspired cookbook meandering was the now somewhat unfashionable pineapple cream. A small pastry tart case filled with crushed pineapple and whipped cream before being topped with pineapple water icing, these were a real favourite of my granny and me when I was wee. Trips into Lurgan town centre on market day weren’t complete without two of these in their little foil cases from one of the fantastic (and sorely missed) home bakeries every Northern Irish town centre had in those days.
Shelves at places like O’Hara’s, McErleans, Jeffers or Kennedy’s groaned with baps, farls, pan loaves, gravy rings and sweet buns, biscuits and tarts. You couldn’t miss the pineapple creams with their vivid yellow toppings and we brought two home in a white paper bag to be eaten with a cuppa at the kitchen table. Strangely I don’t remember eating them with anyone else except her and I’ve certainly never heard of anyone making them at home, so it seemed time to try both.
Pineapple Creams (makes one 9″ tart or 12 small tarts)
- 400g shortcrust pastry (not sweetened)
- 2 x 425g cans pineapple chunks or crushed pineapple, juiced reserved
- 400ml double cream
- 400g icing sugar
- 100ml boiling pineapple juice
- pinch of yellow food powder or liquid colouring
I have to admit that I used shopbought pastry for this pineapple cream tart because my homemade stuff shrinks like wool on a boil wash and while I’m trying to work out what I’m doing wrong, I rolled out some commercial shortcrust instead. If you are more pastry proficient than me, this Dan Lepard recipe for pastry is a good basis.
Line a 9″ tart tin or a 12 whole small tart or bun tray and chill the pastry for about 30 minutes before blind baking for 25 minutes on 200°C. Remove the lining and baking beans after this and bake naked for another 5-7 minutes to give a golden finish. Allow the pastry to cool completely.
Drain the pineapple chunks and reserve the juice. These pineapple creams always used crushed pineapple with its soft almost sticky texture but this is much harder to get these days than it used to be. Del Monte sell it or you can simply crush your chunks with a potato masher. Drain off any excess juice after this and layer the pineapple into the tart tin.
Whip the cream and spread it over the pineapple evenly. Smooth the top down as much as possible with a spatula or a palette knife.
Pour the reserved pineapple juice into a saucepan and bring to the boil, adding the food colouring now if using the liquid version. Tip the icing sugar into a large bowl and add the pinch of yellow food powder if using. Pour the hot pineapple juice into a measuring jug and add about 25mls at a time, whisking well. 100ml will give you a loose but not pourable texture, but you might want a drop or two more if it is too stiff to spread. It should be a soft yellow colour rather than looking like the background of a 90s smiley face.
Use a spoon to pour the icing over the cream. It should be thick enough to obscure the cream completely. Allow the icing to set for at least 1 hour before serving. The pineapple will begin to leech its juice after a few hours and the pastry will become sticky and a little difficult to cut in a large tart. No one will notice when they are eating it but don’t make it too far in advance. Serve with tea and a certain amount of nostalgia.