Fig Love, Fresh From Nana’s Tree

Uncategorized By Aug 09, 2011
It’s a pity not everyone has a grandmother with a fig tree. More folks would be fig fans.
One of my earliest food memories is of climbing those lush, low-slung branches and plucking Nana’s teardrop-shaped wonders. I’d zero in on the heavy ones that made the stems droop. The ones that looked like they were about to drop to the ground.
Still warm from the sun and bursting with sweet juices, they had the fragrance of moist flower petals. The fragile, purple-black skin surrendered easily to reveal bright pink, soft-textured flesh and a plenitude of tiny seeds.
They tasted like honey, but with texture. A warm sweetness that made tiny seed-popping sounds.
I liked them best consumed while dangling on a limb. But Nana liked to tuck thin slices into sandwiches on slivers of her buttered home-baked white bread. We ate them with watered-down tea.
No photos of Nana and her fig tree. They live in my palate memory.
Here’s a photo taken in front of my mother’s rose garden along with my cousin Sandy; it was the last Easter that Nana was with us. Nana was 4 feet 11 inches tall, and often wore a hat with an enormous pheasant feather that reached for the sky.
A fig fancier at 4. But by the time I was 8, I lost my grandmother. And my joyous fig memories faded. Until at late- summer trip a few years ago to the Napa Valley. In every restaurant, fresh figs seemed to be the star, in savory and sweet dishes.
Figs stuffed with blue cheese, wrapped with prosciutto, drizzled with olive oil and herbs, then baked to oozing perfection.
Cut in fourths, raw figs with frisee, fried gnocchi and crisp pancetta. Warm fig tarts dolloped with ice cream.
Even stuffed with chocolate.

Or how ’bout Clafouti, a rustic, custard-like French dessert that is best served warm.
Fresh Fig Clafouti
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided use
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 pound fresh figs, mixed sizes and colors preferred, stems trimmed, halved lengthwise, or cut in fourths if large 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter 10-inch pie pan or other round, shallow dish. Sprinkle evenly with 1 tablespoon sugar.
2. Whisk milk, cream, eggs and vanilla in large measuring cup or bowl with pouring spout until blended. Sift flour, 1/4 cup sugar and salt into separate large bowl. Gradually whisk milk mixture into flour mixture until fairly smooth. Pour batter through strainer into prepared dish, pressing down on any lumps of flour in strainer to dissolve them.
3. Arrange figs, cut side up, on top of batter. Dot surface with pieces of butter.
4. Bake until edges are puffed and golden and it’s cooked in center, 50 to 55 minutes. Place on wire rack to cool and sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon sugar while still warm. Serve warm or at room temperature, spooned onto serving plates.
“Fig Heaven” by Marie Simmons (William Morrow, $19.95).

I love to garnish each serving of Fresh Fig Clafouti with a little sprig of fresh mint.

Yes, fig heaven.

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