Thursday, July 17, 2008

Lillet and green figs

Quite unexpectedly I found perfect-looking punnets of green figs at a local supermarket. The early Mission figs have been arriving from California (?) and they are not much to write home about. I bought these green ones thinking that the bottom layer would surely be squishy and syrupy - not the way I like figs at all. But no. They were perfect, firm, sweet. And I ate them all in one sitting, with small glass of very cold Lillet, out on the terrace.

I love figs. And I can't help thinking of my friend John holidaying on a Croatian island where he says the boat docks right at the market were one buys perfect and cheap figs. To me, that must be heaven. An island, sea, figs.

There have been memorable figs in my life. I climbed our big tree in Bloemfontein to pick the fruit - it had a lime green, thin skin and was pale pink inside, a long stalk, and pear-shaped body. Large. Sweet, but not syrupy.

I had a boyfriend in Cape Town whose mother owned a huge old Cape fig, at least I have never seen them anywhere else, and I think of them as specific to Constantia. It had dark green skin striped with purple at the plumpest points, and the fruit (OK, flower, fine) inside was a brilliant, sticky, deep ruby red. And sweet with an under layer of tart. They would always split a little at the tip and this remains one of the most beautiful things I have ever eaten. When we broke up the worst part was losing access to the old fig tree.

In New York, my friend Molly and I drove up, or were driven by her driver, Carmine (she was performing in a Broadway show, the brilliant Cabaret, at Studio 54, and Carmine was one of the perks), up to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. It took forever. Once there though we found a fruit stand at the back of a market, which had whole trays of figs, each fruit nestled softly in its own cardboard hollow, wrapped by tissue paper. By New York standards they were absurdly cheap and we bought two trays. Later, while she was singing and dancing I turned her lovely roof garden into a sort of pasha's paradise, sans the virgins, I'm afraid, for an after party, with porcelain plates of the figs, as well as Muscat grapes from Italy, lolling from bowls, and sweet slices of melon in dripping apricot-coloured pyramids. There were candles and jugs of flowers and lots of wine in baths of ice. And the figs, we ate and ate and ate.

And last summer here, plump little brown figs, white inside, from my little tree, the one I had carried home on the subway from the Union Square farmers' market; picked still sunwarm, and eaten with silky-thin prosciutto and a glass of cold wine.


  1. Mmmm, a sun-warmed fig is a very fine thing! The tree in Kalk Bay produced such bounty one would hear the ripe figs plopping onto the ground (too many to pick, can you believe it??) at night when it was quiet. It was the first casualty of the new housing 'development' (standing mostly ghostly empty ...) Did you get the fig and marscapone tart recipe mailed a while ago? Have fun with the Frenchie!

  2. Ask your Frenchie about the fig-picking/stealing device our father had designed... I can still see it like it was yesterday.

  3. We would stay in Ponte Vedra Florida every summer and there were fig trees lining the walk to the beach. It was so wonderful to pick them and enjoy.
    As to Lillet..that's the stuff that wild memories are made of!

  4. How sad you lost your fig. Fig and marscapone tart. Emailed? No... It sounds so familiar, I think I've made it before! Long ago. Was it from a Taste Magazine with figs on the cover? I wrote a story for them about Dim Sum, and I swear there was such a tart in its pages.

    Sigrid/Breeg - he rememberd!

    Mary - wow, that sounds lovely. Lillet: I thought it was such a quiet, civilized drink! :-) Clearly I'm not drinking enough of it!


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