Monday, December 10, 2007

In South Africa, size doesn't matter...

I stand corrected…

A lovely gentleman from KwaZulu Natal has dropped me a note informing me that I haven’t correctly grasped the difference between pies and tarts here in the beautiful Republic of South Africa. After rolling his comment around in my mind, I have had to come to the conclusion that he is absolutely correct.

In America, the difference between a pie and a tart is size (with the exception of pot pies). Drop by the pots n pans section of any American supermarket and you’ll find pie pans, which have sloping sides and a diameter of either 8 or 9 inches. If the market is well-stocked, you will also find tart, mini-tart, and tartlet pans, which are pie pans of decreasing diameter (sometimes with fluted sides, sometimes not). So, in America, if it’s big, it’s a pie, if it’s small it’s a tart…except in the case of savoury (not sweet) pies, which are all pies regardless of size.

In South Africa, the difference is much simpler: if it has a top, it’s a pie…if it doesn’t have a top, it’s a tart…size doesn’t matter. That means those delicious Thanksgiving pumpkin pies are really tarts, as are custard pies of all flavours…chocolate cream pie is really a tart…I wonder how a cobbler would be classified?

It does simplify things, I suppose, although a bit of confusion arises when the tart is actually tart-sized. An American would recognize a jam tart, for example (although he might wonder why anyone would go to so much effort with crust and oven when jam can so easily be consumed on a quickly made piece of toast), but an apple tart…called a Dutch apple pie in the States…might cause him to wonder if the tarts are so big, where are the giant pies? When I was 14 I took second place in a pie baking contest with a Dutch apple pie, but now I know that what I entered was actually a tart. I wonder if the judges would have disqualified me if they had known the difference?

Nomenclature aside, there is one other difference between South African tarts and American pies: the crust. Here, savoury pies are made with a crumbly, flaky crust, rather like a phyllo dough, and the sweet pies (tarts) are made with a hard, tough bottom crust that needs a jack hammer to get through. In America, we use the same pastry dough recipe for top and bottom crusts, sweet and savoury alike. I learned to bake from my grandmother who made the lightest, flakiest, most delicate pie crusts ever to melt on one’s tongue. I find that I…and my South African husband…find the pie…er…tart fillings here to be lovely, but we both leave those impenetrable bottom crusts behind.

So there you have it…I stand corrected…in South Africa, size is immaterial in the difference between pie and tart, it’s the top crust that gives the confection its name!

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