I can’t remember the first time I met Jen. I know logically that I’ve only known her for a few, short years. But it seems that one day she was there and it was like the part of my heart reserved for friendship had been keeping a space just for her.
We don’t catch up as much as either of us would like. She has three near-teenage children and a large, busy house to manage. I have a sleepless toddler and before him, a time consuming, important-sounding career. But whenever she walks into my space I can sense a busying of the molecules between us, like they’re preparing for the laughter that comes from a place few reach like the connection of two, inherently reclusive souls who’ve found each other.
Most who meet us at first would miss the spark of similarity. Jen is unashamedly shy and quiet with most people, she hates to speak in groups and is quite happy pottering in her home making bagels and curtains from scratch. She’s from a Detroit blue-collar family and utterly unpretentious. Her father’s driven the same truck a quarter mile back and forth for 40 years of his working life. She’s horrified that I’m writing about her today (ha!).
I’m loud and opinionated, always quick with a joke and story. First to speak and last to draw breath. I scour cities for top baristas and buy organic, unbleached flour. My family’s from central London and my Australian husband explains us by telling stories about going to restaurants, where every one of us changes the menu to suit our tastes better, regardless of how the chef might feel.
But something happened in Jen and my friendship from the very beginning. She becomes louder, and her gloriously inappropriate and leg-crossingly funny sense of humour shines. I’m just as loud, but she brings out in me a capacity for a supporting role as much as lead band member. I want her to shine when I’m around her, just because she makes my life so much more enjoyable when she does.
She’ll cringe when she reads these words (and I’m already laughing thinking about it). We don’t have a friendship based on lovey-dovey-ness. We tease, we play with words, we wind each other up constantly, we glorify our own flaws until the painful becomes the brilliantly funny. I’ve had more than one insecurity disappear under the weight of laughter from her when I’ve taken the piss out of myself.
And then, a few months ago, she called me to say that her husband had been offered a job overseas and they’d be leaving. I’ve shed a couple of self-pitying tears since then. I have a lot of people I get along with and like, but very few I adore and have allowed in past the heavily guarded gates of my heart. As one who strolled through, whistling, almost from the first, it seems particularly hard to see her go.
It’s been a little awkward at times since then. We both trust slowly and I think the knowledge that parting is going to hurt has kept us from pushing too hard. But I adore her, and I’m trying not to resent her husband for being an internationally successful businessman who’s providing an amazing opportunity and life for his family. I joke to her that he really should have considered me more carefully when applying for roles. I think I’ve nearly managed to convince us both that I don’t mean what I say.
She leaves in a few days and I asked her to cook with me for this post. I wanted something that was ours. A cut-out in time that I can look back on.
I chose a cherry pie. Something about it seems wholly American to me, with no proof at all. Cherries are also coming to the end of their very short season in my neck of the woods and taste divine.
We started by exploding a pastry base all over her oven and kitchen, I got the timing completely wrong and, when taking it out of the oven, she forgot that we used a loose-based tin. Sloppy almond pastry base still tastes lovely picked off the oven door, if anyone’s interested.
I completely messed up a crème pâtissière recipe I thought would be delicious. So, Jen came up with a straightforward alternative of cream cheese frosting that works far better than my snooty idea anyway. And now her kids have the beginnings of an ice cream that they’ll inhale, French pâtissière style.
So, here are the results of a day spent with someone I love. Someone who makes my life brighter, my darkness lighter. Someone I’m going to miss very much. But probably still wont Skype regularly, even though it’s just in front of me – because pfft, that just sounds too hard and organised. Luckily, she’s exactly the same.
- 250g plain flour
- 175g ground almonds
- 225g raw caster sugar
- 200g cold butter, diced
- 1 vanilla bean
- 1 egg yolk
- 800g cherries, halved and pitted
- 60g flaked almonds
- 1 tbl sp lemon juice
- ½ tsp ground ginger
- 250g cream cheese
- 2 cups icing sugar
Pre-heat oven to 180˚C / 350˚F
Make the pastry by tipping the flour, ground almonds, 175g of caster sugar and the butter into a food processor, scrape the seeds from half the vanilla bean and add that as well
Pulse to the texture of breadcrumbs
Add the egg yolk, then pulse until it all comes together to form a soft pastry
Press the pastry evenly into a loose-based 25cm tart tin
Rest the tart in the fridge for at least 20 mins
While the pastry is in the fridge, place the cherries in a roasting tin, cut side up
Sprinkle the flaked almonds, lemon juice, ground ginger and remaining sugar over the cherries
Remove the pastry from the fridge and prick the base all over with a fork
Place the cherries and the pastry in the oven and bake for about 20 mins until the cherries are soft and golden
Remove the cherries from the oven and leave to cool completely
Continue to cook the pastry for 10 mins until biscuity and golden at the edges
Remove the pastry from the oven
Leave the pastry to cool, then carefully (!) remove from the tart tin and trim the edges with a sharp knife
Scrape the seeds from the other half of the vanilla pod into a mixing bowl with the cream cheese and icing sugar and blend until light and fluffy
Spread the cream cheese frosting over the cooled pastry and carefully spoon the cooled cherries on top
Keep in the fridge if not serving straight away