When I lost my mother’s recipe for butter tarts, I spent hundreds of hours over several years calling book publishers and bookshop owners, trolling the Internet and pestering bakers the world over to find it. And Christmas morning was never the same until I possessed the recipe again.
Butter tarts, a Canadian pastry, contain very few ingredients. And most recipes read pretty much the same. But I didn’t want any recipe. I wanted the recipe from the Five Roses cookbook that my mom was given as a wedding present, the one with a red cardboard cover.
I didn’t want the Five Roses recipe from the 1929 cookbook or the one from the 1999 edition. And I absolutely did not want a recipe handed down by someone’s else’s mother or favorite aunt. All of those recipes probably produced perfectly fine, maybe even delicious, butter tarts.
But none of them contained my memories…watching my mom roll out the crust and fitting it carefully into the only muffin tin worthy of her tarts…learning how to meticulously fill the shells to just the right height so that they would neither bubble over nor deflate…pledging to keep secret her slight modification of the Five Roses recipe…consoling her when our Irish setter ate 24 tarts she’d left to cool on the counter…laughing with her as she found humor in the story in later years.
Sense memory is a powerful thing. It’s the reason why the scent of our grandmother’s dish soap can move us to tears or the aroma of a chocolate chip cookie makes us remember our first day of school, says Rachel Herz, author of “The Scent of Desire.”
It’s why Christmas isn’t Christmas at our house unless it includes butter tarts, Kris Kringles (my father’s variation of Magic Cookie Bars) and a half-dozen other must-have treats we bake every holiday. It’s not the sugar we crave, but the connection to events and people we love.
Whenever I write something, I put my words to this same “sniff test.” Will I remember the story a year from now? Will it mean something to a reader in a decade? Will my words make anyone laugh, cry, get angry or feel inspired? Or would I be embarrassed if someone found my writing on the Internet (or its successor) in a hundred years?
It’s a tough olfactory test and not everything I write passes it. But it’s standard I apply to my stories and urge you to apply to yours.
If you’re writing and publishing content just for the sake of achieving some arbitrary quota for quantity, stop. Bad content will soon go the way of bad links — it will harm you and your company. Write fewer, better stories. Aim for a single, perfect butter tart, not a platter of stale cookies.
Although I thought I’d found my mother’s butter tart recipe online, I wasn’t absolutely positive until my elder daughter gave me a Five Roses cookbook for Christmas a few years ago. She’d done her own detective work to confirm that the recipe on the latest edition, printed in 2008, was exactly the same as the one my mom had used 50 years ago.
In keeping the promise to my mom, I won’t divulge her secret variation of the recipe. But I promise it won’t make an appreciable difference if you’re trying these delicious goodies for the first time.
1 egg, beaten
1/3 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoons milk
1/2 cup currants (may substitute raisins or chopped pecans)
1 tsp. vanilla
Pastry (makes enough for four single pie shells or about 24 tarts)
4 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 3/4 cup Crisco
1 tablespoon vinegar or lemon
Sift together flour and sugar. Cut in shortening. In separate bowl mix together egg and vinegar. Add to flour shortening mixture and combine. Mixture will be sticky. Divide into four balls, wrap and store in refrigerator for at least one hour before using.
Prepare pastry; roll 1/8 inch thick and cut into 4-inch rounds. Press into medium-sized tart pans. Mix all ingredients together; fill tart shells 2/3 full. Bake in a hot oven, 450 degrees, for 8 minutes; reduce temperature to 350 and bake 15 to 20 minutes longer or until pastry is delicately brown. Yields 12 tarts.
It’s better to give than to receive, but I do want something from you: your comments! Please share your thoughts on brand storytelling below. Wishing you and your loved ones a fabulous holiday season!