Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Direct from the Garden of Eden

By Chris Fortune - The Marlborough Express       

  Darn those cooler nights and chilly mornings, for they mean that autumn is here and we are soon going to be gripped by winter's icy hand. Not to despair at the dinner table, though, as mother nature provides plenty of new taste sensations. In fact, some of the best products are now available from your local farmers' market: golden queen peaches, quinces and figs are three of my all-time favourite fruits, packed with flavour and juice. We are lucky we can buy them direct from the growers right here in Marlborough every Sunday morning.

Figs hail from the Garden of Eden, the tree of life, and are a symbol of fertility, which may explain why they sold out so quickly last week (even I missed out).
For a fruit that lays claim to being the first domesticated crop in the world, they are certainly worth the long wait.
Fresh figs are best eaten as close to the tree of origin and as ripe as possible, when they are just on the point of bursting. Look for the telltale honey-like drops of moisture on the surface.
They are highly perishable and will not keep for long in the fridge, so are best consumed quickly.
They are thin-skinned and easily bruised, so be careful when handling them and treat them like a Romanov princess.
Figs go well with bacon, cheese, ham, goat's cheese (Sherrington Grange, of course, produced here in Marlborough), rocket leaves, dessert wines, honey, almonds, lemons and walnuts, and can be eaten raw, quickly pan-seared or baked in the oven.
As a child, that we used to have a big fig tree in the backyard, and in this fig tree we built a treehouse.
The fruit was not of interest at the time, except as weapons to hurl at my brothers.
Birds were in abundance, as they love figs, and you have to be quick to beat them. My favourite recipe as a 10-year-old was a dozen figs, a slingshot, a bucket of mud and two brothers as targets. My favourite recipe now, after having eaten as many as possible, is to freeze them so you can make figgy scones throughout the year.
500g strong flour
85g sugar
30g baking powder
85g butter
2 eggs
225ml milk
200g figs (or more)
Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius. Put all the ingredients except the figs in a bowl. Gently bring the mixture together until you have a soft, dough-like texture. Add the figs and roll the dough out to about 4cm. Cut out scone shapes with a round cutter and place them on a baking sheet. Brush with egg wash and bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown and cooked. Serve warm with butter.

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