Every Thursday at Two pm for the past twenty years, Mrs. Daindridge served Mrs. Carr butter tarts and tea. People believed when you bit into a butter tart made by Mrs. Daindridge if you listened close enough, you could hear angels singing.
Her pastry was that perfect.
Paranoid, Mrs. Daindridge pulled her curtains shut before she cut the lard into her sifted flour. As she rolled out her pastry she made sure she was home alone and no one would see her sprinkle her secret ingredient, baking powder, over the rolled dough. That dusting of baking powder created a pastry so light, it could float if it had to.
Other housewives, she knew, were sloppy. They mixed up the filling and didn’t immediately fill the tart shells.
Women today are distracted. Houses don’t run themselves!
Mrs. Daindridge shook her head at the thought. If the filling was allowed to settle, your tarts would have an odd suspension of hardened sugar in the center. Most unsettling.
Some housewives would skimp, they would add raisins but no walnut. The walnut created a touch of crunch and zing of sour that brought out the sweet of the brown sugar filling. A butter tart, Mrs. Daindridge maintained, was a symphony really. Light and flaky pastry, sweet syrupy center demanded the crunch of a walnut to delight the senses. What the women of Oakland, Manitoba passed off as butter tarts kept Mrs. Daindridge up at night.
Reverently, Mrs. Daindridge placed her tart pan in her cook stove at exactly 1:30 pm. This ensured a tart that was the perfect temperature. Not so hot that the filling would burn the top of your mouth and not so cool that the filling hardened. When Mrs. Daindridge presented a butter tart it was the perfect temperature. Always.
The tart tin was as carefully guarded as her butter tart recipe. Her tin survived emigrating from England and was reserved for butter tarts and popovers only. Mrs. Daindridge was of the opinion that you absolutely could not under any circumstances expect a new pan to deliver the same results as an old pan. Her tart pan dated back to her great grandmother and Mr. Daindridge was under strict instruction; if there was ever a house fire, the pan was to be saved at all costs. If Mr. Daindridge had to sacrifice his life for her tart tin, that was a risk she was willing to take.
As her butter tarts baked in her gleaming cook stove, she spread her best lace tablecloth over her table. She set her shining silver birch china out. She lovingly placed a lace napkin beside Mrs. Carr’s tea cup.
Her heart ached for Mrs. Carr. Between the two of them, their children were grown and gone, all but Cissy.
Cissy Carr refused to settle down and find a husband. Mrs. Carr had, understandably, felt faint at the thought.
Mrs. Daindridge’s lips thinned at the willfulness of this next generation. Mrs. Carr’s eyes were red when she ran into her at the post office yesterday. Mrs. Daindridge knew just looking at her that she needed a double batch of tarts on Thursday. As Mrs. Carr’s best friend, she was happy to comply.
Now that her top secret pastry operation was over, she adjusted the curtains in her kitchen to let in the early spring light.
She watched dear Mrs. Carr slip through her garden. Mrs. Daindridge steeled herself as Mrs. Carr gave her perennials a hard look.
Her perennials were slowly emerging from their winter slumber; Mrs. Daindridge was certain she was failing in some way. Likely not mulched enough or too much, or they were root bound. Mrs. Daindridge was certain she would hear about her list of gardening offenses closer to spring planting.
Mrs. Carr was known in the area as a green thumb. It was rumoured that she could resurrect plants from the dead. There was not a blight, bug, or disease that dared settle on Mrs. Carr’s garden.
Mrs. Daindridge pulled her tarts out of the oven, and filled her tea pot with hot water to let the tea steep. Shoulders slumped, eyes misty, Mrs. Carr was on the verge of tears.
Mrs. Carr knocked politely on the back door.
“Come in!” Mrs. Daindridge opened her door. Her face fell as she looked at her friend. “Oh, my dear is it as bad as all that?” Mrs. Daindridge gasped.
Mrs. Carr’s tortured eyes flicked from Mrs. Daindridge and then to the tea laid out on her table.
“It’s every bit as bad.” She sunk into the chair she sat in every Thursday.
“Here. Have a tart. They are fresh out of the oven.” Mrs. Daindridge placed the plate of tarts in front of her friend.
“I’m not so sure a tart can fix this.” Mrs. Carr moaned.
“Oh, Mrs. Carr. A tart can fix everything.” Mrs. Daindridge knew of no other solution but tea and tarts when one faced trouble.
“Cissy announced that she is no longer courting Shane Lawrence.” Mrs. Carr could barely get the words passed the fist of salty tears in her throat. Thoughts of a late autumn wedding-dashed.
“What?” Mrs. Daindridge gasped.
“Shane Lawrence is a lovely boy, perfect for her. John and Ada Bennett are planning to help him purchase his own land so he can continue to be their hired man but also build up his own farm. He asked her to marry him.” Tears pooled in Mrs. Carr’s eyes.
Mrs. Daindridge hovered over Mrs. Carr while she composed herself and continued.
“She turned him down.” Mrs. Carr whispered. She pressed the lace napkin to her forehead.
“Did she give a reason?” Mrs. Daindridge sputtered. She poured the perfectly steeped tea into two tea cups.
“She wants to get an education.” Mrs. Carr held her hands out, palms up in supplication. As if asking her friend of twenty years to make sense of it.
Mousy, uninteresting, Cissy Carr is turning down the likes of Shane Lawrence to seek an education? Mrs. Daindridge was careful to think and not say.
“What sort of education?” Mrs. Daindridge asked cautiously.
“She wants to be a teacher.”
“Really.” Mrs. Daindridge shook her head. “She doesn’t have to get educated if she has a man to provide for her!”
“That’s exactly what I said! Repeatedly. Why waste your time getting an education when Shane Lawrence will provide everything she needs.” Mrs. Carr pressed her handkerchief to her mouth. “There’s more.”
Mrs. Daindridge didn’t think she could handle much more disappointment on behalf of her friend.
She waited for Mrs. Carr to elaborate.
“Mr. Carr agrees. He thinks it’s wonderful that she wants to wait on marriage. He is going to send her to school in Brandon in the fall. I will lose her to the city.” Mrs. Carr wailed into her handkerchief.
“Now, now.” Mrs. Daindridge patted her arm. You have until the fall to see if you can get her interested in someone else. What about…uh…” Mrs. Daindridge’s mind whirled for a solution to help her friend. “Matt Hartwell?”
Mrs. Carr looked up and hope gleamed in her eyes.
“Matt Hartwell?” she whispered.
“He’s going to be an architect! Imagine that. She would never have to worry about providing for herself.” Mrs. Daindridge warmed to the idea, and ran with it. “Matt Hartwell is the nicest man on two feet. He’s kind to his mother, and he’s well educated. Point Cissy in that direction!”
“Matt Hartwell is a handsome man.” Mrs. Carr tapped her finger against her lip as she thought. “Imagine if she could catch his eye.”
Mrs. Carr couldn’t resist the butter tarts another minute. She picked up the tart and bit into it.
“Yes!” Mrs. Daindridge exclaimed excitedly. “Mrs. Carr. You mark my words; I bet my tart tin that next year we will be sitting together in this kitchen, planning a wedding.”
“Do you think it’s possible?” Mrs. Carr’s fingertips inched toward the tray of tarts.
“I don’t think it, I know it.” Mrs. Daindridge said triumphantly. She handed the tray to Mrs. Carr and then took a sip of tea as if to seal the deal.
As their hearts warmed to the idea, the ladies leaned forward as they began to scheme.
“It may be advantageous to purchase a few new frocks, Mrs. Carr. Perhaps Cissy could be interested in a colour other than brown?” Mrs. Daindridge suggested gently.
How Cissy in her brown twill caught Shane Lawrence’s eye was a mystery. If Cissy is going to catch Matt Hartwell’s eye, or any eye for that matter, she’s going to need to burn every speck of brown! Mrs. Daindridge thought vehemently.
“I know what I’ll do.” Mrs. Carr rubbed her hands together in anticipation. “I will tell her that we are investing in some new clothes for school. In the mean time, I’ll make sure she has errands to run near the livery stable where Matt Hartwell puts his team away at 4:15 every day. This could work.”
“I do worry about that Min.” Mrs. Daindridge said cautiously.
“Min needs to be dragged off to a lunatic asylum.” Mrs. Carr agreed. “Matt Hartwell is too kind, that sister of his is as crazy as a loon.”
“Never mind that now.” Mrs. Daindridge dragged the conversation back to the matter at hand. Getting Cissy in something other than brown and then parading her in front of the very handsome, make- a- woman’s- heart- flutter, Matt Hartwell. “Once she turns his head, she can make short work of Min. No man would expect his wife to live with her. First things first- new clothes.”
Mrs. Carr nodded as she took another butter tart.” Mrs. Daindridge, you are brilliant.”
“Oh. I’m not so sure about that!” Mrs. Daindridge blushed with pleasure.
“You are. I never would have dreamed Cissy could turn Matt’s head, but now that you mention it, why not?” Mrs. Carr smiled at Mrs. Daindridge warmly.
Mrs. Daindridge’s stomach knotted with worry as she poured more tea and offered more tarts. She hoped with all her heart she hadn’t set her dear friend Mrs. Carr up for even more disappointment.
With each bite of tart, and each sip of tea, Mrs. Carr’s troubles floated away.
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This sketch is from the book Hope in Oakland, the first book in the Oakland series.
Oh- Scroll down, another short story follows this one!