Fig Love

I am hungry.  Specifically, I am hungry for figs.

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After five years of fretting, I have my own mature fig tree and she is a vision of leafy beauty. Once, after a deep snow, I was sure I had lost her. She was a pitiful, shivering stick for months that I couldn’t bear to remove from the yard because well, sometimes a little green miracle occurs. And it did!  Now she is lush.  I removed all the tiny fruits last year because someone told me that’s what I was supposed to do the first time a tree fruits.  Despite being raised by two people who speak the language of plants, I have a black thumb.  I took this photograph a couple weeks ago and the fruit is still hard as a rock so I am not sure how this story ends.

My best friend, Jesse, claims she will come up to visit me if she can spend her vacation floating on a lake while eating figs. This is why we are best friends, you see. I am mad for figs and swimming (along with iced tea and watermelon they form the sacred quadrangle of summer, a Deathly Hallows of sorts).   I am part otter and part whatever animal has to eat constantly. Shark?  Vole?  No wait, I know the beast, it’s whatever type of bird lives in my yard. They are habitual snackers and their niblet of choice is figs  – my figs.  But they don’t select a fig, finish it, wipe their beak and move on to say, the neighbor’s yard.  No, they go flitting from fig to fig, taking one beakful from each and thus spoiling every potentially luscious one!  John James Audubon himself would be in a bird blind with a sling-shot if he lived in my yard and craved figs as I do.

My persimmon tree is also the target of sadistic vermin.  Last year when I saw the miniature, pixie fruits hanging demurely from the branches, I was elated!  I practically sent out announcements.  A deer (a commonly miscategorized creature, they are actually rodents of unusual size) slunk in under cover of darkness and plucked each and every fruit, then made off on her cowardly, thieving hooves.  This year the tree is too nervous and depressed to produce.  (Note: Relax, a couple years ago I saw a doe and nursing fawn in the woods and almost sewed it a calico bonnet, I JUST DON’T WANT IT LUNCHING ON MY PERSIMMONS.)  Also, I just slipped outside and spied a wee, frightened fruitlet – hurrah!  I have set my spring-loaded bambi trap and this evening I will take cover to watch the drama unfold…

Talk of figs has me reminiscing about this lattice-topped creation I still can’t believe I made a few years ago for Thanksgiving:

http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Fig-Crostata-355993:

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Photo by Romula Yanes

I don’t think I can get myself to make it again, just inserting the photograph exhausted me.  It required 2 1/2 sticks of butter so every five years (quinquenially!) is often enough for Fig Crostata.  I found some mission figs today at the store and I think I will make what I consider an easy but elegant dessert (it could be a salad or main dish, depending on what you are asked to bring to the potluck).  Simply cross-cut the tops of your figs (black ones look best in this dish though any of them will taste good) and insert a blob of goat cheese into the top.  Then drizzle with honey and sprinkle with cracked pepper and perhaps salt (try one first before you get wild with the shaker).  That’s a four-ingredient wonder right there.

The other simple and sure-fire thing to do with figs is Jamie Oliver’s salad.  The man seldom does wrong with his recipes and this one made me his admirer years ago:  http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/fruit-recipes/the-easiest-sexiest-salad-in-the-world.  Vegetarians, you can make this without the prosciutto – I often do.  This salad is, hands-down, one of my favorite things to do in the kitchen, besides watch someone else do dishes.

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Jamie O. describes this as “sexy,” and I admit, the combination of honey, fresh lemon juice and olive oil can have a surprising effect.  You start to feel all under-the-Tuscan-sunny when you are eating it and pretty soon you are sending the husband out to Red Box because you cannot drive (or speak without slurring, after 1 1/4 glasses of wine) for a chick flick and yelling things after him, like, “Make sure it has hot guys in it.”  Maybe he regrets marrying you just a little, except your dinners are so good.  I would call this salad “first date food” but you see which way things could go.  Plus this dish may be a bit too much cleavage for a first date.  Stick to a higher neckline and maybe a composed salad with orange slices, or better yet, soup. Save Jamie for the third date; he is known, after all, as “The Naked Chef.”  You don’t want to succumb to the honey dressing’s Midsummer Night’s Dream effect and wake up with a donkey.

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I made this about 47 times one August when I was pregnant and not feeling particularly sexy, but definitely hungry.  My parents had a lovely tree that gave generously of itself every autumn for about three week.  For those weeks we couldn’t keep up with the abundance, hence, Jamie O.’s fig salad every night.  My husband would come home and say, “So…fig salad then?”  Yes, that’s right, darling.  I am waiting for my oldest daughter to have an in-utero memory of this and request some.

And now this is the part of my history with figs that is painful to recount, even more than that chick flick bit.  The people who bought the house from my parents – I can barely stand to type it…cutdownthefigtree.  Yes, they hacked down this many-years-loved tree, along with the rest of my parents’ enchanting Eden of mixed edibles and decorative plants.  They smothered the yard in sod.  I drove by the house a few years ago and my daughters burst into tears (not one of our better family outings but probably not the worst either) so I decided I would never drive down that rode again.  And I haven’t.

It was a demanding plant and maddeningly difficult to enclose in a bird-proofing net. Climbing it with my mother’s designated “figging knife” in hand, slashing about in an attempt to slice down the fruit was a practice best left to pirates. I am missing a finger and part of a nostril, but I have my memories and in them, the tree lives on and verdantly thrives, covering the entire yard.  I had to remind myself that the new owners of the house weren’t evil, they just didn’t value what I did.  I am comforted by knowing that whenever they mow their lawn they hear the tree screaming from beneath the earth.  And sometimes they feel its crushing weight on their chests in their nightmares and hear it shuffling through their house at night on it’s dry root legs.  See?  I have let it go.

Make the salad, you will not regret it.  If you lack a long-suffering husband, make it for a good friend and eat it somewhere in the sunshine, preferably while floating on a lake. I hope it tastes like your best memories.

marycake

P.S. To Dan in Portland, my lone male reader:  I made this salad years ago at your house and I recall you looking lustfully at your wife after a few bites.  You always look at her that way but still, the salad didn’t hurt.  Thank you for reading, and eating, so eagerly.

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