My Sister’s Pineapple Tarts

February 27, 2010

This entry made as a guest blogger appeared on Six Degrees Asia on 27 February 2010.

Now that we are at the end of another stretch of Chinese New Year festivities, I shall be able to speak objectively about my sister’s pineapple tarts. This year’s celebrations are, in fact, one for the family history books. My long-suffering sister did not just master the art of making pineapple tarts; she has made the most perfect pineapple tarts I ever had the joy of tasting. They were so good that I think that she should start taking orders for next year’s batch right now. All that flour, sweat, (sweat in flour), and red-capped containers should start paying for themselves.

There will be people reading this who will doubt my judgement and think that their own girlfriends, relatives, or really distant relatives like Ah Gu’s grandmother in Malaysia make better pineapple tarts. I may be more a connoisseur of chicken rice, bak chor mee, and mee goreng, but that’s only because I get to gorge on pineapple tarts once every year since the day I grew an appetite. By that standard, I believe that I understand good pineapple tarts as much as Ah Gu, or, if Ah Gu isn’t happy, he can go write his own blog.

The best pineapple tarts are products of balance. The jam must not be too sweet or too sour, but it must also not be too tasteless. The pastry shouldn’t fall apart when you sink your teeth into it or the experience will feel rather anti-climactic. (It’s hard to praise in earnest the food that stains your pants.) Yet, it should also be soft enough to melt in your mouth and do so without sticking to your teeth. The tarts should appeal to both kids and grannies, life’s two ends of toothlessness. The rest of us in between ought to be able to recall our childhood love of this delicacy as well as gain confidence that we will still be enjoying it at a ripe old age.

To have reached such heights, my sister has come a long way since the time she took Home Economics in school decades ago. I am not sure if the schools still teach this subject today, but I never did figure out what the “Economics” part meant. Back in those days, girls just did Home Economics and guys Metalwork and Woodwork; nobody knew or asked why the fields were gender-specific or really cared. It was pretty helpful though if you hadn’t thought much about your sexual orientation:

“How do you know that you’re heterosexual?”

“Well, I take Woodwork…”

“OK.”

Girls looked after the house and fed the hungry. Guys made the rubbish at home like a hinge, a spade, a door wedge, and a pencil holder. I don’t think that many of our mothers allowed us to keep this rubbish around for long even though, when we first brought them home, we were beaming with pride because our little manly hands had shaped such masterly first instruments of civilisation.

Mother: “Simi sai?!” (Translation: “What **** is that?”)

Me: “Err, a spade.”

Mother: “Throw away lah! What kind of rubbish! You want to become a farmer issit?”

So, often with welling tears, we boys, at various stages of surrender to matriarchal wisdom, aborted our babies while we could only watch with envy the growing domestic efficiency of the girls. But my sister was different, and her tears then were of a very specific kind. She would come home happily to announce her intention to reveal a new ability to bake sponge cakes, swiss rolls, rock buns, or what had you. At first, everyone at home roared with support and enthusiasm, and, soon after, there wasn’t anyone around to support and enthuse.

You see, my sister was not a born cook; it just wasn’t her thing. She would bake and re-bake and make her poor little brother eat what she made, and her brother was, unfortunately, a born truth-teller. So she got hurt time and again for hurting his stomach first, and his stomach hurt time and again because she got hurt. For example, her rock buns were more rock than buns: I would bounce them against the wall to prove that I wasn’t being mean and that I did try chewing but they just wouldn’t crack. And I had to bear my suffering elsewhere: how could I tell my dentist a real reason why I had new cavities each visit and why my fillings kept falling out?

But the years — should you ever need the assurance — are always kind to us. When I last sank my teeth still left into my sister’s pineapple tarts, it was strangely not just the perfect taste but also the memory of past experiments that flooded my mind. So she wasn’t a born cook, but, through her silent perseverance and the guinea-pigging of heroic friends who took over when I ran from her test audience, she has made the issue completely irrelevant. My sister tends to take the long route in life, I notice, but she almost always gets to the end in such style.

Gwee Li Sui

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2 Responses to “My Sister’s Pineapple Tarts”

  1. Paju Pig Says:

    Yes! Your sister’s pineapple tarts were the most delicious and touching tarts I’ve ever eaten in all my life. Please give my special regards to her! ^^

  2. Gweek Says:

    i love you, Paju pig!!


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