A whole stick of butter melts down in a skillet. I sprinkle it with half a cup raw sugar. I am making a second try at a Tarte Tatin. It is the summer of French baking experiments. In trite schoolgirl French I sing, “Voulez-vous couchez avec moi? Ce soir? Seulement si vous faites des desserts!”
From the inside out I arrange a spiral of halved crabapples in the blackening goo in the pan. Not cored or peeled despite recipe instructions. I don’t have the energy to bother. Apples, butter, and sugar sizzle in savory delight.
The apples were plucked from the tree in the backyard. In the 90 degree evening. Watching the sun fall across the mountains. Reaching higher into the cool of leafy green branches for the tart green apples I missed before.
All summer I have been coming out into the parklike backyard to pluck crabapples and ripe yellow cherries from the trees. First blossoms then fruit they gave me. The peas still wild with purple flowers. The cherry blossoms I Instagram and flower crown my heart out. Watch the first tiny tart green cherries form like a father-to-be watching his pregnant wife bloom.
When the yellow orbs were ripe I made a cherry clafouti. I’d never heard of such a thing until the Williams-Sonoma Essentials of French Cooking index led me to the recipe. I mixed milk, cream, eggs, flour, vanilla, salt, and sugar. Baked the batter for two minutes in a heavily buttered blue glass pie dish. Poured in yellow cherries I didn’t have the will to pit. Poured the remaining creamy batter over the top until the fruit was submerged. 30 minutes later a white and yellow fruit custard emerged from the oven. Shaped like a pie yet crustless. Full of juicy cherry pit landmines.
I lay out on the grass sunburning then tanning with books. Coffee. Laughing at the world inside my iPhone. Walked around the backyard surveying the fruits of my domain. This patch of land in the Wild West of Nevada where I have lived for four months now. A stranger in a strange land. I hole up inside to avoid the opioids, guns, and rape that I fear. Come outside only for meds and provisions. Today returning from CVS with a plastic bag of pill bottles a kindly neighbor I recently met hollered greetings between front yards.
Perhaps Reno isn’t the cesspool of vice and danger Los Angeles was? San Francisco? Even Portland? Despite that I frolicked in past cites quite freely. Each trauma and violation ratcheting up that ol’ PTSD so that in Reno now I hide out in my hole. Perhaps unnecessarily.
Reno I think of as a cheaper, chiller, cut-rate Vegas. Sure there’s gaudy money pit casinos that are fucking depressing. Sure the bars never close, not that I ever go to them. But there’s this adorable burgeoning arts renaissance here. Totally a surprise. Reno galleries still see my figurative oil painting as a legitimate art form, unlike LA’s conceptual performative installations. Plus now Nevada has legal recreational weed. Best thing ever for soothing that beastly PTSD. Living in nowheresville, “the sticks,” really isn’t so bad.
Besides, sticks make twigs make branches that bear apples and cherries, and that shit is delicious. In a moment of grocery store agoraphobia I tweet, “Is not buying groceries just eating & baking w/ backyard fruit an adulting fail or thrifty DIY win? Asking for a friend.” I buy the most disgusting Marie Calendars and Michelina’s frozen dinners imaginable at the Raley’s five minutes away. Stock up on sugar and butter for baking adventures.
After May’s clafouti’s came June’s galettes. The crabapple galette is the equivalent of a personal dessert pizza. Fairly easy to throw together in that sacred trifecta of apples/butter/sugar/flour. A pastry round on a cookie sheet brushed with melted butter. Arrange a spiral of cored quartered crabapples leaving a one inch margin on the edges. Fold pastry edges over the apples. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Bake for half an hour. The first crabapple galette I brought to my grandma warm from the oven. The second I selfishly ate myself with whipped cream all in one night.
The Joy of Cooking reveals flocks of recipes that flutter like birds across my kitchen. A cherry and two apple trees and my hands are busy all summer.
The first Tarte Tatin was a delicious disaster. I followed The Joy’s prescribed schtick of butter, sugar, apples sizzling in a skillet. Covered it with a homemade pastry round. Baked for 25 minutes. But when the time came for the climactic flip my first Tarte Tatin was not to be.
Caramelized apples stuck to the skillet to be pried off with a spatula. My eagerly awaited French dessert was a pile of dog shit looking pastry and blackened apple bites. I got a fork out and ate the whole pile in one sitting. Compulsively delectable. Vomited it up in four am heaves that night. Thought apples might be over for the season.
Yet the trees kept bearing fruit deep into July so who was I to turn down free food? That Disability check only goes so far. Making my own desserts was cheaper than the six packs of Heath Klondike bars I savored in the summer heat.
Tonight I craved Tarte Tatin yet again. So tonight I tried out William-Sonoma’s recipe. This called for the same skillet prep but instead a pre-fab grocery store pastry round. I pulled out the white oblong box from the freezer. Unfolded the unfamiliar dough. When placed on top of the apple skillet the dough round covered the apples completely. Unlike my previous experiment. I put it in the oven for 25 minutes. Listened to Ke$ha’s new song, “Praying,” as was I.
When I peeked into the oven to pull it out the pastry had puffed dramatically. Golden. I pulled the pan out with pot holders. Ran a pie serving spatula around the edges and bottom. Placed a plate on top. Gritted my teeth. Flipped the skillet, dessert and plate. Hot apple juice and instantly crystalizing caramel spots spewed from the pan to the teal tile.
I carefully lifted the skillet up, leaving the perfectly plated Tarte Tatin in the white china plate like a summertime dessert miracle. It came out this time. Hallelujah!