A few days ago Big mentioned that he loved gypsy tart. Inwardly I groaned. Gypsy tart is a fickle dessert. I have made it a few times, it works roughly half the time. I can use the exact same recipe every time and get completely different results. The ingredients for the filling, namely condensed milk, evaporated milk, brown sugar and lemon juice need to be the right temperature, measured very accurately and whisked for the right length of time in order to become thick and creamy. Get any of these factors wrong and the filling will not set. However, get everything perfect and send a prayer to the Goddess of Baking and this tart is the best dessert you will ever eat.
I first had gypsy tart at primary school. Back then children didn’t take boxes of sandwiches for lunch from home. We all ate school dinners and mostly they were yummy! Everything was cooked fresh on site and the menu was wholesome and varied. We didn’t have a choice, there was no buffet style service, you ate what you were given. The “dinner ladies” were large, red-faced, formidable women who went from table to table with a huge metal trolley on wheels and dished out the food. Naturally, I loved pudding best. I recall huge jugs of thick custard, often it was pink for some reason, and slabs of steaming hot sponge or coconut crunch which had to be hacked into small chunks with a spoon. On one fateful day we were served sweet macaroni, yes pasta in a vanilla custard and literally no one ate it. The slop bins were full to the brim with it and the dinner ladies were stuck with vats of the stuff which wasn’t easy to dispose of, it was so gloopy. I don’t know whose bright idea it was to make it but we never got it again!
My sister and I loved gypsy tart so much that we begged mum to make it for us. We didn’t get it often, it was a rare treat because the ingredients were pretty expensive and mum was thrifty. As we got older and left home, she would make it for after Sunday lunch. My children loved it too, especially when it went wrong. On these occasions mum would be highly embarrassed dishing out slices of pastry, then spooning the liquid caramel on top but they hoovered it up regardless. They also loved her cakes when they sunk in the middle, strange kids. But the very best thing about gypsy tart was the rhyme. Come on, you all know it, Gypsy tart makes you fart, custard powder makes it louder!! How we loved chanting this at the table, it was exhilarating being allowed to swear in front of our mum. She pretended to disapprove but she laughed too.
So today I made gypsy tart for Big. The pastry case was crispy and golden brown but the filling refused to set. When I cut into it the caramel puddle inside flowed out all over the worktop. I handed it sheepishly to Big and he looked at it for a second before clearing his plate and declaring it “perfect”. Strange boy.
Thanks for reading. xx