We are mad.
We are 17 days into the new year as I write this, and we have been working for 16 days. Straight. It is nearing our favourite time of the year again. And you know because it swarms with continuous work. That means 12 to 16 hours of work a day, for weeks on end. And sometimes, you realise that this is a little too much. It is too much when you discover you have memory lapses; too much when your body clock is no longer able to get you up at 4.50am; too much when you wake up and it feels like someone whacked you all over with a rolling pin. We must be crazy.
We are obsessed. It has become a habit. A crazy want to make only the best. We use only superb ingredients and put in only our best efforts at work. Lunar New Year brings out the worst in us. The desire to surpass the previous efforts and cross that ridiculous, even higher than before, bar that we set for ourselves overwhelms everything else. The desire to do even better than before, when everyone says that is already fantastic, in hope for more approval and validation. Only then would it earn us the slightest nod of acknowledgement from the toughest critic of all: that little voice in our heads. We must be nuts.
We are mad. We make only 3 different treats for the Lunar New Year. That is a very small selection. There are no customisations. Everyone gets the same thing. And we really mean the same thing. We do everything to make sure it is the same thing. The first Pineapple tart from box number 2 and the last pineapple tart of box number 96 must taste equally good. The Yu Sheng from last week must be the same as the Yu Sheng next week. The best part is that we are not in the business of manufacturing synthetic products by machine, where the raw materials are consistent, but organic ones by hand. Pineapples come in different sizes, different sweetness and ripen at different rates. Radishes, especially organic ones, come in the funkiest of shapes, making julienning and shredding them into equally sized pieces difficult. We must be crazy.
We are obsessed. Every pineapple, every single pineapple, goes through a 21 part process before becoming a box of TIANN’S Pineapple tarts. Each pineapple is photographed, weighed and rotated regularly till it ripens perfectly. Exactly 27 cuts is used to remove the peel of the pineapple. Another 20 cuts is required to properly core the pineapple. Multiply that by a hundred, that is how many cuts you need a day. That is also how you develop a phobia. A phobia of cutting yourself, because when you cut yourself on cut number 513, you still have more than 4,000 chances to do it again. It hurts. We also reinvent the recipe every year to match the pineapples of that season. That means 3 weeks of cutting and cooking pineapples; dividing them into equal sized balls (down to the 0.1g); baking dozens of batches of tarts, each only very slightly different from the previous; and tasting pineapple tarts regardless of allergies; just to zero down to the right taste and texture. And after all of that, we are only at the beginning. We must be nuts.
We are mad. We cook pineapples for 9 hours. It needs to be stirred continuously for the entire 9 hours. It slowly stews in its own sugars until it caramelises to the colour of Hainanese Kaya. That must be why we have swollen wrists and hands. We also become experts at dodging. As the pineapple bubbles away, it spits boiling pineapple magma. These merciless projectiles burn and mark any patch of unprotected skin, often your face. When you get marked 3 hours into cooking, there is still another 6 hours more to get scarred. Concealer becomes a necessity. We must be crazy.
We are mad. We convince ourselves each year that this is something we must do, that we will sell everything we make, and that what we do is not too crazy. But, deep down, we know. We secretly admit that we do not need to be convinced. We love it. We love putting in crazy hours. We love the fact that we cut each pineapple perfectly. We love ID-ing every pineapple that comes through our Kitchen. We love being amazed at how pineapples can caramelise in its own sugars. We love being amazed at that every time. We love going through dozens of oranges just for that little bit of zest. We love to be able to get only zest and no pith. We love flooding the pineapple jam with Tahitian vanilla beans even thought its price three folded. We love each mark like battle scars to a warrior. We love risking getting tennis elbows (or,maybe not). We love how one pineapple makes only one box of tarts. We love the joy that comes from knowing someone will enjoy them. And that, that someone loved themselves a little more for eating a healthier tart. We love that that someone is a little happier. We love that our treats sell out. We love the people who get them. We love being crazy.