"Why, I owe at least a dozen pickled limes, and I can't pay them, you know, 'til I have the money, for Marmee forbade my having anything charged at the shop."
"Tell me all about it. Are limes the fashion now? It used to be pricking bits of rubber to make balls." And Meg tried to keep her countenance, Amy looked so grave and important.
"Why, you see, the girls are always buying them, and unless you want to be thought mean, you must do it too. It's nothing but limes now..."
Little Women, Louisa May Alcott, Chapter Seven
I'm a big fan of a pickle - onions, cucumbers, cabbage, beetroot - pretty much anything you can preserve in vinegar and eat with cheese. That said, I'm not sure I quite understand twelve-year-old Civil War era schoolgirls risking the cane to pass pickled limes under their desks. But to each their own.
I think the March girls deserve something a little more interesting, and if it's "nothing but limes now", then these tarts would be the perfect. Ideal with tea while rehearsing Jo's latest script, celebrating an engagement or trying to find out about the mysterious boy next door.
Makes nine 7.5cm tarts
175g spelt flour
40g icing sugar
90g very cold butter
2 large egg yolks
1tbsp iced water
6 large eggs
250g caster sugar
125ml double cream
50ml sour cream
Chilled metal mixing bowl
Sheet of greaseproof paper
Nine 7.5cm tart tins
Nine small squares greaseproof paper (you can use the paper from earlier)
Baking beans (or rice/uncooked beans)
1. Place the flour and icing sugar into the bowl, along with the cubed butter. Rub together, trying to touch the mixture with only your fingertips, rather than your (much warmer) palms, until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Mix in the egg yolks and the water and bring together quickly into a dough. Shape the dough into a thick log, wrap in greaseproof paper and put it into the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Don't be tempted to skip this chilling time, or the pastry will shrink in the oven.
2. This pastry is incredibly short and crumbly (it's the icing sugar that does it) which means it's tricky to work with in a humid climate, or if the temperature in your kitchen is above a couple of degrees. However, Nigel Slater is a star - his pastry technique is a dream, and makes it very simple to line the tart cases. Instead of rolling the pastry out, just remove it from the fridge, cut thin slices from the log and press them into the tart tins, ensuring there are no gaps. Prick lightly with a fork, place on the baking tray and return to the fridge for a further half hour.
3. Preheat the oven to 200C. Place squares of greaseproof paper into the tart cases and fill each with baking beans. Bake the cases for ten minutes, then remove the paper and beans and return to the over for another five minutes. Don't take them out of the oven until the pastry is dry to the touch, or the tarts will become soggy when you add the lime mixture. Reduce the oven temperature to 150C.
4. Finely grate the zest from two of the limes and set aside. Mix the eggs and sugar together, beating lightly for a couple of seconds, and set aside until any froth is gone from the surface. Juice as many limes as you need in the quest for 180ml of liquid - it should be between five and seven. Stir the lime juice and both creams into the egg/sugar mixture. Pour the mixture through a sieve and into the measuring jug, then add the lime zest.
5. Pour the mixture into the tart tins and carefully return to the oven. Bake for 25 minutes, taking them out when the filling is still slightly wobbly. Serve cool with crème fraîche and more grated lime zest.
Recipe adapted from Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries. If all my recipe books (and there are quite a few of them) were thrown into a fire tomorrow, this is the one I'd jump through the flames for. It is a truly wonderful format - it's written as a year-long food diary - and I am therefore continually opening it to the day's date to answer the immortal question 'What Would Nigel Eat?'. My brilliant dad bought it for me in a secondhand bookshop in Camden one memorable autumn morning more than three years ago. We've shared a love for Nigel, and his inner-city garden, ever since.