This is a long story that ends with a butter tart, but there are creepy crawly things in the middle. If you, like me, try to avoid little beasties at all times, scroll down past the story directly to the butter tart recipe right now.
It begins with camping, which is something my husband, who is from Queens, NY, does not do unless forced. I forced him. I won’t get into the whole long story behind that, because it would be exhausting to write and worse to read. But it was his birthday and we we were going to Minnesota to visit Nancy, my closest friend from childhood, and go to a Yankees-Twins game at the new stadium. That’s the good part. Nancy’s boyfriend had a campsite “up north” which, we were told, was quite plush for camping. Unsure of what “plush for camping” means, we headed up north the morning after the game.
I will go skydiving and I will kill and butcher a bull. Both those activities prove that, even by the highest standards, I am not a wimp. But I really don’t like bugs. And of all the bugs in the whole world, none terrify me quite as much as blood-sucking ticks.
Shortly after we arrived “up north”, as Ebo and I stood around the campfire, I saw several little black specks moving up my beloved’s legs. The way I let him know about this was not discreet, but I do not believe that when the woods are your bathroom you have any obligation to be discreet.
Moments later I felt a whisper of movement on my own legs. And then my arms. Soon, as though there was a tiny little breeze, I felt the hairs on my head move. It continued like that for hours, as I madly brushed, slapped and batted at myself and asked Ebo over and over and over to check my back again.
Apparently there was an unusual and aggressive infestation of ticks that arrived just as we did. My friend Nancy, to whom the ticks were magically oblivious, had never seen anything like it. All night long, I was on high alert for the telltale tickle on my skin—which appeared, it seemed, every few minutes. Eventually, it was time for bed. (I use the word ‘bed’ loosely). I lay awake all night in the tent, terrified the ticks would swarm all over our bodies and we would be buried alive in bugs.
I promise there is a really wonderful butter tart at the end of this, so please stay with me. Or again, feel free to scroll down to the recipe right now if you need to—I understand, really I do.
When we got back to Nancy’s house the next day, (house = floors and walls and other tick barriers) I showered in scalding hot water and found two more ticks on me. I screamed, but the ticks were not afraid. I pulled one off my shoulder and the other from my hip (my hip!) and refused to cry. (Because, remember, I am not a wimp). The following day, we made our way to the airport. As I sat waiting for our flight, staring straight ahead trying very hard not to think about ticks, Ebo put his arm around me. (I should point out that this was his birthday celebration weekend, and he had spent most of it waging a war against ticks on both his body and mine, trying to help me through my quiet terror, and, well… camping.) As his hand reached up to stroke my hair, he suddenly stopped, and I felt his fingertips tentatively explore the nape of my neck. I froze. In a falsely soothing, and thus truly alarming voice he said, “Babe, it’s okay, and you are going to be fine. But I think you have a tick imbedded in your scalp.”
I looked at him and said the only thing a woman in my position could say. “Please go find me some really good chocolate.”
He did, and then he very calmly and discreetly (because one should be discreet in an airport, where there are toilets that flush) pulled that sucker, limb by limb, out of my scalp. Right there, in the airport. I did not cry. I also did not speak for the entire flight home, although I twitched a lot.
The minute we landed I called my friend Amy. She is a nurse, and she would know what to do. As I explained the situation, she clearly heard something in my voice indicating it was dire. Right after we walked in from the airport, she and her husband arrived at our house. She brought me upstairs and told me to shower and then, as I sat on the floor in my white, fluffy bathrobe, she went through all the wet hair on my scalp, bit by bit, in a methodical nurse-like way. Finally she pronounced, with great authority, that I was completely free of ticks. I very nearly did cry then– with relief. But again, I am tough, so I did not actually let any tears escape.
Weeks later I learned that Amy and her husband had been out at dinner celebrating their anniversary when I called.
On Valentine’s Day this week, Amy had knee surgery. I texted her afterwards and asked her how she was doing and if she needed anything. “Am ok,” she wrote, in a drugged out haze. “Yes, please. Some butter tarts”.
Amy was raised in Rochester, New York by Canadian-born parents, which makes her truly loyal to the sport of curling and butter tarts. Until I met Amy, I’d never heard of either. And until today, I’d never tasted (nor even laid eyes upon, to the best of my knowledge) butter tarts. They are often described as being like pecan pies without the nuts, but they are more buttery than that. Amy likes hers with raisins; they come without as well, and some brave souls even put nuts in theirs.
Butter tarts are very, very sweet, and a little gooey and messy in that decadent-treat way. I think they would be wonderful topped with whipped cream or whipped crème fraiche, but Amy might consider that a sacrilege. And when it comes to butter tarts, tick removal, and friendship, I’d say Amy is an expert.
Please note: If you are not interested in the recipe, you may want to scroll past it to see the card my friend Nancy sent me after adequate time had passed after the DOTT (Days of Tick Terror) and I was able to think about it without twitching.
You can make your own dough or use pre-made refrigerated pie crust dough, such as Pillsbury, or frozen puff pastry dough or tartlet shells.
For the dough:
1 1/3 cups flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut in small bits
3 tablespoons cold vegetable shortening
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
3 ½ to 4 tablespoons ice water
For the filling:
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup butter, melted (half a stick)
¼ cup corn syrup
1 ½ teaspoons cider vinegar
½ teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup plumped* currants or raisins, if desired
- Combine the flour, sugar and salt in a bowl. Cut the butter and shortening into the flour mixture using a pastry blender or two forks until the mixture is in course crumbs. Add the vinegar and 1 tablespoon of water. Stir, adding more water 1 tablespoon at a time until a loose dough forms. Knead the dough in the bowl once or twice to bring it together; press it into a 4-inch disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter the bottom and sides of the cups in a 12-cup muffin pan.
- Dust your work surface and rolling pin lightly with flour and roll the dough into a circle that is 12-inches in diameter. Use a 3-inch biscuit cutter or jar lid to cut 12 circles out of the dough.
- In a medium bowl, lightly beat the egg. Beat in the brown sugar with an electric mixer. Add the butter, corn syrup, vinegar, vanilla and salt and beat until smooth.
- Roll the dough to a 12-inch circle. Use a 3-inch round biscuit cutter or a jar lid to cut 12 circles. Fit each circle into a muffin cup, pressing the bottom and side to fit snugly. Sprinkle the currants or raisins on the bottom of each tart crust. Spoon the filing over the fruit, filling the crust to the top. Bake until the filling is golden and bubbly, about 16 minutes.
- Let the tarts cool about 5 minutes before transferring to a plate. To remove then from the muffin cups, tilt them with a spatula and slip a butter knife underneath
- Serve the tarts warm or at room temperature. Tarts may be kept refrigerated for up to three days.
Makes 12 tarts
*To plump dried fruit, combine in a glass bowl with 2 teaspoons water and microwave 10 seconds. Test for softness and repeat as needed.
This is the card my friend Nancy sent me that made me realize I am not alone.