She once was engaged to a man, but it was not to last. She lived her life as a spinster taking care of other people, baking cakes for her brother, for her sister’s grandchildren, for another woman’s husband.
My great-aunt, my grandmother’s sister, was born on June 11, 1914, on a small island in the North of Norway. She was one among seven siblings. As a young girl she had the same hopes as other girls, but she did not get far.
For seven years she was engaged to a man from the same little place as herself, but he moved to the city and found somebody else. My great-aunt was left on the island. She lived in a household with her extended family. Her brother, her sister and her sister’s husband. Her brother suffered from tuberculosis that attacked his spine. He survived the disease also called the white plague – but his height decreased from 1.90 meters to 1.50 and put him in a wheelchair. My great-aunt took care of him, fed him and washed his clothes.
When her brother died, she was left with her sister and her brother-in-law. My grandparents. She was a bystander to their marriage, their children and their grandchildren. How strange it must have been to live alongside their happiness and sorrows.
In 1938, when she was 24 years old, she entered school to study Home economics (husmorskolen). Cleaning, nutrition, handicrafts and cooking were parts of the curriculum. Then WW2 came to Norway and to our little island. Every little island and remote area was invaded by the Germans. But in contrast to the northernmost parts of Norway, this part of Norway escaped Hitler’s policy of scorched earth.
Later she joined the Home Mission Movement. Religion brought her God but also off the island. Every summer she joined the missionary boat sailing along the Norwegian coast. She made the journey with her friend. The two spinsters found each other.
My great-aunt was the last one in our family to live in the big old wooden house. The house with the view to the fjord and the mountains of the Senja islands. There are no wedding photographs from her life. Nor pictures of toddlers opening up their christmas gifts. Still, she became a grandmother for us kids.
Was she happy? Was this the life she wanted? I never asked her.
All I have is her cookbook from 1938. All recipes from her year at Home Economics school she wrote down in her cookbook. One of them was a tart with rhubarb or almonds. Today it is a memory of my great-aunt.
This makes one big tart or about four individual tarts. Making individual ones is easier when dealing with gluten-free dough as it easily breaks. In contrast to traditional French tarts with shortcrust pastry, this pastry is easier to succeed with and does not require blind baking. The pastry, which consists of butter, flour, sugar and eggs, resembles sweet shortcrust pastry (pâte sucrée). It is filled with slow-cooked and caramelized rhubarb jam.
600 g / 21 oz peeled rhubarb
200 g / 7 oz sugar
75 g / 2½ oz sugar
120 g / 4½ oz butter, softened
250 g / 8½ oz gluten-free or ordinary flour
1 tsp baking powder
1. Cut the rhubarb in pieces and place them in a pan with the sugar. Let the rhubarb rest overnight – the sugar will produce rhubarb juice. When you boil the jam you do not add any water so this ”juicing process” is important.
2. The next day boil the rhubarb for about an hour on medium heat without cover. If you use green rhubarb, the colour should be brownish red. Cooking sugar this long will darken the colour and thicken the jam. When finished, let the jam cool.
3. Preheat the oven to 170C/340F/Gas 4.
4. Cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl until pale colour. Beat in the egg until fully incorporated. Mix in the flour and the baking powder until the mixture comes together as a ball.
5. Roll out 2/3 of the dough on a lightly dusted surface. Transfer it to a flan ring, ideally with a removable base. Spoon over the jam.
6. Roll out the remaining 1/3 of the dough on a lightly dusted surface. Use a rolling-pin and a pastry wheel to make a nice top.
7. Bake for about 45 minutes (or 30 minutes if individual pies).