A Saucy Little Tart

It occurs to me to wonder why women have occasionally been referred to as tarts.

Was a tart considered such a fancy alternative to pie back in the days when life was “nasty, brutish and short” that the term was considered appropriate for ladies of the night, who would no doubt have distinguished themselves from the more genteel ladies of the court by garnishing themselves with tawdry baubles?

One opinion online thinks so: “A Tart is a pie that has no covering on it. Therefore the filling is exposed for everyone to see. It seems to me that a woman who dresses the same way could be called a tart.” Someone else agrees: “Because tarts are fancy little desserts, and women who are “all tarted up,” are “fancy” women — i.e. women with too much makeup and jewelry etc.”

Seems fair. Makes sense even. More sense than another opinion on the same page that states, with great depth and insight: “Nobody knows, it was probably just an old latin word.”

But tart is not an old Latin word; it’s an old English word. And the Olde English word for rough is “teart.” Perhaps the label implies, probably correctly, that such women were less refined and well-mannered than their more affluent sisters.

But it gets naughtier. Shakespeare, a master of erotic language whose theatre, the Globe, was located at the heart of London’s most notorious red-light district, filled his plays with brothel references and frequently set out to amuse his audiences with bawdy talk.

In The Taming of the Shrew, Petruchio comments on the sleeve of his wife Katherine’s gown: “What, up and down carved like an apple-tart?”

As it turns out, ‘carved’ was a frequently used pun on the word of the day for lady bits; ‘up and down’ is pretty obvious; and ‘apple-tart’ was not for eating, at least, not with a knife and fork…

Personally, I like the more romantic theory: that “tart” is short for “sweetheart.” But, given its derogatory connotations, this affectionate label was probably only used for a sweetheart of the illicit kind.

It’s certainly sweeter than many other such terms, such as bawd, cocotte, cyprian, fancy woman, harlot, prostitute, sporting lady, whore, woman of the street, working girl, hustler, slattern, street girl, streetwalker, floozy, hooker, slut, prostitute, whore, slag, call girl, working girl, loose woman, fallen woman, scrubber, strumpet, trollop, woman of easy virtue, fille de joie.

I’d say I’m a pretty sporting lady. But I’d rather be called a tart. And a saucy little one at that.

So here’s a wicked little confection for you, one that flaunts its plump, juicy, red berries and its buttery crust. It will leave your fingers sticky with jam, smears of cream on your chin, and crumbs down your front.

Get sinful. Go on, you know you want to. It’s National Raspberry Tart Day.

Bon appetit!


For crust: (I admit it, I used a storebought shell)
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
1 stick (1/2) cup cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2-3 tbsp cold water

For filling:
8oz (225g) cream cheese, softened (I used Philly out of a tub)
½ cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
I large egg, beaten lightly
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
¼ cup seedless raspberry jam (I used Bonne Maman – not seedless but worked OK)
1 tbsp water
3 cups raspberries, rinsed and picked over

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Make crust: In a food processor blend together flour, sugar, and butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add 2 tablespoons water and toss until incorporated. Add enough remaining water if necessary until mixture begins to come together but is still crumbly.

Press crust evenly onto bottom and sides of an 11-inch tart pan with removable fluted rim. Prick crust with a fork and bake in middle of oven until golden, about 30 minutes.

Make filling while crust bakes: In a bowl with an electric mixer beat together cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and egg until smooth. Add flour and blend mixture well.

Pour filling into warm crust, spreading evenly, and bake in middle of oven until set, about 20 minutes. Cool tart in pan on a rack.

In a small saucepan heat jam with water over moderate heat, stirring, until melted and smooth. Remove pan from heat and cool jam slightly. Arrange raspberries decoratively on top of tart and brush gently with jam.