When I came in from dealing with the orchard grass on Saturday, I discovered a tarte tatin lying on the working surface, together with a tub of Cornish clotted cream. And very nice that dessert was when we ate it that evening.
Tarte tatin originated in the Loire valley, albeit quite a few miles upstream from our neck of the woods. The most popular version of how it came about is as follows:
Two French sisters, Carolina (1847-1911) and Stephanie Tatin (1838-1917), created the tart. The sisters lived in Lamotte-Beuvron, a small rural town in the Loire Valley of France, owned and ran the hotel called l'Hotel Tatin in 1888. The elder sister, Stéphanie, dealt with the kitchen. She was a particularly fine cook but was not the brightest of people. Her specialty was an apple tart, served perfectly crusty, caramelized and which melted in the mouth. One day during the hunting season, during the midday scramble, Stephanie placed her tart in the oven the wrong way round. The pastry and apples were upside-down but, nevertheless, she served this strange dessert without giving it time to cool. The French call this dessert tarte des demoiselles Tatin (the tart of two unmarried women named Tatin).
The dessert gained its popularity when the famous Maxim's Restaurant put it on their menu. According to some historians, when word of this new gastronomic delight reached Paris, Maxim's owner decided he must have the recipe. He supposedly sent a cook/spy, disguised as a gardener, to Lamotte-Beuvron to discover the secret. The spy was successful, brought the recipe back to Maxim's, and it has been on the menu of that famous restaurant ever since.
It features quite frequently on restaurant menus in France, but I have rarely had a genuine tarte tatin over there. Usually what is served is just a normal apple tart - with ice cream. The French (bless 'em) don't do cream like we English. They have no pouring cream, no whipping cream and no clotted cream. All they have is what they call Chantilly, which is squirted from an aerosol. And this is supposed to be the best cooking in the world!