My Uncle, Gardens, and Coconut Tarts

Last night, my Uncle Art lost his three week battle with COVID. He fought hard as he did his whole life when confronted with challenges but in the end COVID was the impossible hill. We couldn’t say goodbye, we couldn’t be with him, but he wasn’t alone, as a nurse with a huge heart, my sister-in-law’s sister, was working that shift and sat with him so that he wasn’t all alone. These heroes at the frontline don’t have the luxury of saying they are tired of COVID. They see the families and the devastation everyday. Thank God that my Uncle wasn’t completely alone.

I always had a special relationship with Uncle Art. My love of gardening was born in his yard, summers spent racing around then stopping to grab a peach from his trees, rhubarb and strawberries and blueberries, the strange magic of watching peanuts grow. We planted peanuts this year because my uncle did when I was a kid, and I thought it was so crazy that they grew underground. When I got older, and started planting my own garden, we would get together in January and have coffee and doughnuts and plan our gardens together, pick out seeds to share. He would help me start them, and then when fall came around, I learned how to can tomatoes and make jam with him. He was so capable and could do so much. He could quilt and knit and sew; he was a career plumber who designed the systems for some of the biggest buildings in Detroit. He was the Drum Major in Saint Andrews band, which is where my aunt and my mother met him, when my mom was just eight years old. (they were Highland dancers) He loved to tell jokes and watch hockey, played it too when he was younger. When Wyatt was born, Wyatt loved him from the start and would seek him out to sit by and play with as he got older, because Uncle Art liked to joke around with him. The last time we were able to see him was at Wyatt’s birthday in March – and now he is gone. I will carry what I have learned from him though, through the rest of my life and will teach Wyatt, and whenever I plant a garden or make jam or even bake, I will think of him.

This next part is from an old blog of mine, Quixotic Magpie. I spent a day learning how to make coconut tarts from Uncle Art, and blogged about it to his delight. He was so tickled to see it on the internet, and I thought I would reshare it.

My family is divided into two camps: The Coconut Tart people, and the Empire Biscuit people. Don’t get me wrong, we will gladly eat either/or, but..we have a preference for one or the other. I love a good Empire Biscuit, but Coconut Tarts are my weakness. My grandma made them every Christmas and it was the dessert I looked forward to the most.

My grandmother is gone now, but my Uncle Art has taken up the mantle, and baked the tarts for the holidays. Yesterday I spent some much needed time in the kitchen, learning how to bake these tarts. I have decided to share my love for these with all of you! Just note – I am not a baker, nor am I a food blogger. Lol. My tarts look a little more rustic than professional – I have not managed pretty food yet, just yummy tasting! Because these turned out awesome in flavor, if I do say so myself.

Surprisingly, these are not a health food! 🙂 They are fattening and delicious!

Ingredients for the gooey coconut filling:

3/4 cup sugar
1 can Eagle Brand condensed milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 lb. butter melted
1 egg
3/4 cup coconut, firmly packed

For the pastry – my uncle’s version:
2 c. flour
2/3 c. butter flavored Crisco + 4 additional TB (my mom uses cold butter but I don’t know how much)
a pinch of salt
2/3 c. water

Preheat the oven to 425.

We made the filling first, but I don’t think it matters which you start with. It was easy! Basically, just combine all the above ingredients in a bowl, and whisk until everything is mixed really well. You want to make sure you really incorporate the sugar, it has a tendency to want to sit on the bottom.

Next we made the pastry- this was a little bit more complex but not too terribly difficult. I just really hate getting my hands dirty. Bleh. You start by adding all the ingredients together in a medium to large size bowl- we used a vintage Pyrex one which I am sure was not bought vintage like mine were. Then I cut it in the Crisco using a pastry cutter. Once this was all cut in well, my uncle showed me the next technique, of making the dough all crumbly. I am not sure of the technical terms, but we called it making it crumbly.

This technique involved running it between his hands, using the friction to combine it and make it all crumbled into little balls, Once the mixture was all crumbly balls, we could easily roll it all together into a ball.

Ta-da!Once we had this nice round ball of dough, we split it into two balls. Next, we placed one of the halves onto a floured piece of wax paper to roll out. We also put another piece of wax paper over the top of the dough, so it was sandwiched between two floured sheets of wax paper. Then I commenced rolling. You want it nice and thin, but not too thin. Maybe 1/4 inch thick. 

 We had some little helping hands too. My cousin’s three year old daughter assisted me.
Once it is rolled out, you can cut circles to place into the muffin tray. I would say the one my uncle used was about 4″ across. He said this was not perfect but it worked for him. So maybe the size of a wide mouth water glass. 

Once you roll out all the dough and have cut the circles, you can start slowly placing them into the muffin tin. This part is the slowest, most laborious part in my opinion. 

Mine were a bit messy but looked like this when I was done. A bit of a trick – instead of using your fingers to press the dough down into the tins and onto the sides, once you have it set in loosely, you can use a small lump of dough as a little press instead of your fingers. 
Once you have everything ready to go, you are ready to fill! Give that filling a good whisking again to stir up any sugar that may have settled while you did all this stuff with the dough. When finished, add about 2 TB filling to each tart. This is entirely up to you, how much is added. I just wouldn’t suggest all the way to the top, because then they will overflow during cooking. Pop them into the oven for about 15 minutes (12-17, but we did 15) until the dough is a nice golden brown, and the filling has a nice golden color as well. My uncle then covers his with a dish towel for a few minutes to trap the heat a little longer without baking. 

Once they cool, enjoy! Perfect with a milky, sugary cup of tea. Yum!

And that is all there is to it! I hope I did an ok job explaining this – I didn’t realize how difficult it was to write down a recipe that is mostly conveyed by look and feel in our family. If you try to make them, let me know how it goes!


26 thoughts on “My Uncle, Gardens, and Coconut Tarts

  1. Oh, Erin. I am so sorry for your loss. Uncle Art sounds like he was a wonderful man who had loads of interests and shared generously. This disease has done so much damage to families, to people we love and if one can find anything for which to be grateful here, it is that he had someone with him as he passed. Little consolation but it does ease the heart a bit. My deepest sympathies to you and all your family.

    I’m glad you shared his coconut tart recipe. They look delicious and I learned a new tip about rubbing the “crumbly” through your palms till it breaks down. That will help me tremendously! So, thank you, Erin. And thank you, Uncle Art. Biggest hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. He was such a great force in my life. And he did have lots of interests, and was so creative. I am so grateful that she was there with him, and he wasn’t alone. This disease is devastating and I can’t believe we are still in this position.

      Thank you Jeannie.


  2. You must have been so glad to know he was not alone at the end. Such a difficult time for you all. What lovely memories you have of him and the special moments you shared. They are going to last with you throughout your life.

    That technique of making the crumble mixture is called rubbing together. You need cold hands whenever you work with pastry and have to make sure not to over do the rubbing otherwise the pastry becomes over-worked and will shrink when cooking.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sweet friend, I am so sorry about the loss of your uncle. We have lost too many and watched too many struggle to this virus. My goodness. So thankful he had someone beside him when he slipped away. Hope he was able to do so peacefully.

    Maybe you guys can make some coconut tarts in your uncle’s memory over the holidays. they look and sound scrumptious. I am always in the coconut camp!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sorry for the loss of your uncle. He sounded like a larger than life person. Thank goodness for the wonderful nurse who stayed by his side at the end. Though of course, that is what nurses do; they provide physical comfort and emotional comfort. My youngest is an urgent care nurse and she says all they are doing these days is swabbing for covid. People can request a test even if they don’t seem sick and these days fear is rampant.

    You’re lucky to have lovely memories of all your good times with him to sustain you in the days ahead. (and I remember when you first posted that coconut recipe on your other blog. I think I made some comment about it being too much work for me but sounded delicious!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Rita. He was definitely a larger than life person – someone referred to him the other day as the Ambassador of Laughter. Isn’t that just the best way to be remembered? And it is so true of him. Nurses – I have always appreciated their service and dedication, but this year so above and beyond. They truly are heroes.

      I feel lucky too, to have them. We had a close relationship which makes the heartbreak harder. And lolol!!! That is awesome you remember!


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