January 15th, 2021

‘Tis the season for baking

By Lethbridge Herald on December 12, 2020.

Al Beeber
In September, I ran a survey on my personal Twitter feed while in a baking mood which asked followers if pecans or raisins belonged in butter tarts. Or neither, for that matter.
While on my six-month hiatus from work, I spent a lot of time in the kitchen as I wrote in one of my first columns back. Some of my efforts were successes while others, like a brisket and pumpkin dessert won tons, were unmitigated disasters.
My butter tarts, on the other hand, were a mixed bag. This Canadian classic is relatively simple to make with ingredients that include corn syrup, butter, brown sugar, an egg and vanilla extract.
However, I had mixed feelings about adding raisins or pecans to the mix. The butter tarts I remember my mom making had a rich flaky pastry and luxurious golden filling.
My pre-made tart shells were sort of dry and tasteless while my filling looked really brown. There wasn’t that mouth-watering texture I associate with a great butter tart and while my expectations were perhaps too high, I was still disappointed.
Thankfully, my nephew Dan Krajewski — who is following in his father’s footsteps selling gladiolas at the Lethbridge farmers market — liked my first batch.
And so far, I’ve only done one. And they were without raisins or pecans. I know raisins are a staple of many tarts — I’ve even seen recipes that use currants, which I detest — so with Christmas season here, I’ll be back in the kitchen this weekend trying another shot at it.
I’m thinking one reason mine weren’t up to par was the fact I didn’t use golden corn syrup; the stuff I bought was dark like motor oil.
If I can get my hands on a lighter- coloured syrup, that might change the appearance and perhaps the taste.
I’m not daring enough to try my hand at making my own pastry yet so I’m hoping I can find commercial shells that are less like cardboard than the first batch.
On the bright side, my pecan pies that I made using much the same recipe were fantastic. Dan gave me the thumbs-up on those, as well. My family isn’t much into desserts except for me so anything I make will largely go into my stomach and the dogs’ or into someone elses’ homes.
One recipe I hope to make this year is an old Polish dessert we called “ears” as kids. Better known as “chrusciki,” or Polish angel wings, this dessert was a staple at Christmas. These delicate pieces of fried dough covered in icing sugar are among my favourite memories of Christmas and I truly want to recreate them as homage to the Polish side of my mom’s heritage.
Being an ancestry buff, I’ve managed to track mom’s Polish roots back several generations dating to my fourth great- grandfathers, Marcin Howaniec who was born in 1778 in Juszczyna parish, and Jan Ryzka, who was born in 1771 in the village of Brzusnik.
Mom’s Slovak and Czech sides are another matter; I can’t find anyone who came before her great grandfather Vinc Vohradski who died in the 1914 Hillcrest mine disaster along with his younger brother Josefu, both of them buried in the mass miners’ grave with many other victims of that unspeakable tragedy.
But the fact that I can pay homage to mom’s Polish roots is enough motivation to try my hand at this special treat.
I’m not brave enough yet to make one of the traditional dishes of my Icelandic heritage, namely fermented shark, which sounds as unappetizing as lutefisk, lye-soaked cod that heralds from Norway, where according to Ancestry, I also have substantial ties.
Instead, I’ve decided to learn the Icelandic language and so far I have a couple of great words I can use when somebody cuts me off in traffic. Granted, I’d have to spell them because I have no clue about their pronunciation. I can pronounce, however, “Jaja, Ding Dong,” that catchy tune from the great Netflix comedy “Eurovision Song Contest: the Story of Fire Saga” about the contestants from Iceland.
Thankfully my English, Scottish and Irish DNA, which accounts for 36 per cent of my total, gives me a chance to consume something more palatable. Pass the corned beef, Irish stew and a side of bangers and mash, please.
And a butter tart with raisins and pecans.
Follow @albeebHerald on Twitter.

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