Every season presents us with a fresh opportunity to celebrate delicious fruit. Just think stone fruits and berries in summer; apples, oranges and lemons in winter; tamarillos and blood oranges in spring; and pears and figs in autumn.
Autumn is one of the loveliest seasons in Canberra and I recently made a pact with myself that I must get away from my desk at lunchtime to savour some fresh air and sunshine. Last week, I took the opportunity to walk to Acton, an old part of Canberra just 15 minutes from the office where I work. It's the area where my family lived around the time that I was born and I was delighted to discover that the little 'buggy shed' we once called home has recently been renovated. More on that in an upcoming post.
There's a fig tree on that old property and I couldn't help but forage for ripe fruit, especially seeing nectar-hungry wrens flitting back and forth from the tree, and also knowing that our landlady in the 1960s had 'banned' my siblings and I from touching her figs. Forbidden fruit is somehow always sweeter, isn't it!
The sight of figs en masse is enough to make some folk go weak at the knees (myself included), so when my Twitter friend, Eucale Stanes, a dietitian, fellow cook, fresh produce fancier and gardener, invited me to collect some figs from the tree in her back garden, I was only too happy to barter with some of my home grown bok choy and tarragon. We had a good chat about gardening and cooking, and I know that Eucale enjoyed cooking with my tarragon as much I enjoyed preserving her beautiful little figs. We're catching up again in a day or two for another swap and I'm really looking forward to it! Eucale, this recipe is for you.
I'm sharing with you a Margaret Fulton recipe for fresh figs preserved in brandy that made its way into my repertoire many years ago. It's from a little book titled Hot and Spicy Things, published by Barbara Beckett. Look out for this title on eBay or at the upcoming Lifeline Book Fair. It's a worthy addition to every cook's bookshelf. The recipe is one of those that leaps out from the page and says 'Cook me now, for I'm yummy!', if you understand my meaning. The first ever batch of these that I made was for a dinner party, but speaking frankly, they were so darned delicious, I ate the whole lot beforehand.
MARGARET FULTON'S FRESH FIGS IN BRANDY (MY WAY)
1kg fresh figs
1 cup water
1/2-2/3 cup vanilla infused caster sugar (less if preferred)
3/4 cup brandy or less, dependent on quantity required
1 cinnamon stick
1 vanilla bean
Wash the figs and allow them to dry. Slice them in half lengthways and place them into a saucepan, followed by the water and the sugar. Over a low heat, gently bring to a simmer and cook for just two minutes. If you cook the fruit for longer it won't retain its colour and shape. Remove the pan from the hotplate and allow to cool briefly, then using a slotted spoon transfer the figs to a sterilised preserving jar, together with the cinnamon stick and vanilla bean. Top up with the cooking syrup and fill to the brim with brandy. Seal and store in a cool dark place. Allow to infuse for 24 hours before serving, or up to a week (if you can bear not to touch them for that long!). Serve with yoghurt, cream, ice cream or mascarpone.
The process in pictures...
Tell me, do you like to barter home grown produce or forage for fresh fruit in your area? What goods do you exchange and what's the best swap you ever made?
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.