I have it all planned: first
violent love, then
-Louise Gluck, “Heart’s Desire” from Meadowlands
Hearts and flowers, fluff and frills--who needs 'em? One of the best Valentine's Day parties I know took the St. Valentine's Day Massacre as its theme, and Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" as its black-hearted anthem (hey, it was the late 80s. We were in college, a passle of black-sweatered, clove-smoking artistes finding refuge from our sweatshirted preppy brethren in the ratty mock-tudor environs of Terrace Club. Suicidal Brit pop was required). The dining room was decorated with dozens of shiny red cupids hanging from tiny nooses. Suggested dress was black and red, and all the food was, more or less, black and red. Tiny beet hearts decorated dark green salads; spicy shrimp fra diavolo nestled into licorice-shiny ink-black pasta. Dessert was dark chocolate cake that, when prodded with a fork, released a gush of garnet raspberries --bleeding heart cake! It was bitter, bitter fun.
In the same vein, as it were, is Susie Bright's Eternal Cherry Devotion Pie recipe. “Don’t make this pie if you’re just toying with someone—you’ll be sorry. Don’t make this pie for your lover if you don’t want him or her by your side forever, then moaning at your grave when you’re gone. This is serious stuff.” Involving cognac and fresh black Bing cherries, her recipe is a killer one, and well worth making, even if frozen cherries are all that's available at this time of the year. Since Susie's a pal, I'm going to hold out and not reprint her recipe; trust me, it's well worth the price of her book Mommy’s Little Girl: On Sex, Motherhood, Porn, and Cherry Pie. What I can give you is a different recipe, one you can call Black Heart Tart. It began with an elusive memory of an 17th-century combination dubbed "black tart stuff"* (finally tracked down to one of the last entries in Elizabeth David's collection of essays An Omelette and a Glass of Wine), and fleshed out with a couple of more modern recipes, including the harvest tart from the original Silver Palate cookbook and the winter fruit tart from the wonderful Bay Wolf Cookbook. But mostly I just made it up in the kitchen of someone who made my heart leap on a snowy afternoon years ago.
Thanks to the prunes, raisins, and red wine, the filling really is black, which is cool by itself. But even better is how making it perfumes the house with a deep medieval scent of winter at bay—a whiff of whisky, a breath of ginger and cinnamon, a sparkle of fresh tangerine. And since it's made with dried fruits and citrus, both of which are available in abundance in the wintertime, you don't have to run around buying dopey out-of-season fruit, like those oversized cotton-ball strawberries dipped in squiggles of chocolate wax.
There’s a certain kind of alchemy about steeping the dried fruits in the red wine and spices. As they’re slowly swelling up soft and plump, soaking up the warm wine, the object of your affections can wander in and out of the kitchen, peering over your shoulder as you raid the whisky stash and scent your hands with the peel of a fresh tangerine.
A sweet tart dough, richer and more tender than regular pie crust, works best here. To make it, mix together two and a half cups of flour, a quarter cup sugar, and a half-teaspoon salt. Cut in 12 tablespoons (one and a half sticks, or 6 ounces) of cold butter. Then, instead of the usual ice water, moisten the flour with two egg yolks, one teaspoon vanilla, and three to four teaspoons of water, as needed. Press into a round, wrap in plastic or slide into a zip-lock bag, and chill for several hours while the filling is cooking and cooling.
Black Heart Tart
1 large apple, peeled and diced
1 cup each dried apricots and prunes, chopped
1/2 cup raisins
2-3 TB candied orange peel
1 cup red wine
1/4 cup whisky
1/8 tsp each ground cinnamon and ginger
Big pinch of freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup each brown sugar and white sugar, or to taste
Zest and juice of 1 tangerine
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
Dough for two-crust tart (see above)
In a heavy-bottomed pot, mix all filling ingredients except for the walnuts. Warm over low heat for 15 minutes. Turn off heat and let fruit absorb the rest of the liquid for an hour or so. Add chopped walnuts. Divide the tart dough into two rounds and roll out. Line a tart pan with dough and spoon in filling. Cut remaining dough into strips. Lay strips in a criss-cross pattern to cover most of the filling. As Susie Bright writes, “Yes, you can be crafty and do it so that it is a perfect basket weave. But who cares. It looks totally adorable no matter how you lay the strips down and it’s actually more personal just to make it up yourself.” Chill in the fridge for an hour or so, then bake in a preheated oven at 375 degrees until crust in golden brown and filling is bubbling. Cool and serve with whipped cream.
Songs for Chocolate
1. Passionate Kisses, Lucinda Williams
2. My Doorbell, White Stripes
3. Just like Heaven, The Cure
4. You Ain't Goin' Nowhere, Bob Dylan
5. Brown-Eyed Girl, Van Morrison
6. Langue d'Amour, Laurie Anderson
7. Romeo and Juliet, Sergei Prokofiev
*David's recipe, she writes, "is adapted from a dish evidently popular three hundred years ago in the days of the Stuarts, when a puree of dried prunes, raisins and currants cooked in wine was used as a filling for tarts and pies...It is rich and dark without the cloying and heavy qualities of mincemeat. It has also a certain originality which provides a small surprise at the end of the meal." In her recipe, a half pound of prunes are baked in 1/4 pint of red wine or port and water to cover, in a covered earthenware dish at 300F for 2 to 3 hours, until the fruit is swollen and very soft. During the final hour of cooking, 4 ounces of raisins and 2 ounces of currants are covered with water in a separate dish, covered and baked the same way. Then the prunes are sieved, the raisins are drained and sieved, and the purees are mixed. She suggests serving it well chilled in glasses with a layer of thin pouring cream floated on top and shortbread or ladyfingers alongside.