Tart is such a little word, only four letters, but as with many little English words it has many different meanings; the obvious one is an open pastry case with a sweet or savoury filling. However it can also be an insulting description of a woman of supposed ‘easy virtue’, or it can mean a sour taste – in fact you could have a tart tart if you forgot to put any sugar in the fruit. It can also mean an abrupt or sharp way of speaking.  If you tart something up, you make it more attractive, maybe in a superficial way, but not in an unpleasant or nasty way – however if a girl or woman ‘tarts herself up’ the results may be slightly different! When I was working with a particularly great bunch of people, who were such fun and in whose company I spent so much time helpless with laughter, the word ‘tart’ was applied to anyone of any gender in an amusing and silly way, a very mild insult in this context.

So where did the word come from and did it have a common origin despite its different usage?

  • the open-topped pastry is quite old,  from Old French ‘tarte’, which may in turn have come from Latin
  • tart may have originally been an endearment, maybe coming from ‘sweetheart’, and then developed into meaning any attractive woman, and then becoming less flattering in meaning, an immoral woman, or even a prostitute; from this ‘tarting up’ may have arisen
  • having a sharp taste is at least five hundred years old, or maybe more, and may come from an Old English word meaning to be painful or sharp

Bristol tarts:

  •  pastry made from 2 oz fat (lard or vegetable shortening) and 5 heaped tbsps self-raising flour
  • red jam
  • 1 oz margarine or butter
  • 2 tbsp treacle
  • 4 heaped tbsp quick-cook oats
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp almond essence
  1. line with pastry two medium-sized tins, or use jam tart tins
  2. put a little jam in the bottom
  3. melt butter and treacle together, then beat in other ingredients
  4. fill the tins
  5. bake larger tarts for 20-25 mins or until pastry is cooked, smaller ones for 10-15 mins, gas mark 7, 450° F, 210° C

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