I know that this series is called Slowly Eating England, but I hope you’ll forgive me if this particular article draws inspiration from somewhere a little warmer.
Twelve years ago, I moved back to England from Spain, having only just planted a spindly sapling fig tree there. Every year, I return to where the tree has since taken over the tiny Spanish courtyard garden, and usually spend an hour or so sweeping up the carpet of overripe figs and vowing to return earlier the following year to enjoy some of the crop.
This year, though, result! For reasons that more experienced gardeners than I would doubtless be able to explain, the fig harvest was unseasonably late, meaning I was greeted by perfectly ripe fruit still on the branches, rather than the floor.
Much has been written about the sensual qualities of figs. Just google the poem Figs by DH Lawrence and you’ll get the gist. I couldn’t possibly comment on their aphrodisiac properties—indeed I should imagine the sight of me dribbling fig juice is singularly unattractive (I am a notoriously messy eater)—but I can vouch for the gastronomic pleasure they provide.
I generally use figs in a savoury guise. As an elegant starter perhaps, enclosing a piece of brie or soft goats cheese and wrapped in air-dried ham, or else cooked down with star anis and a splash of vinegar as a sort of pickle to accompany duck breast. However, after a week of flan—the ubiquitous Spanish dessert—I was in the mood for proper afters, hence this recipe for a simple yet delicious figgy pudding.
(You may be pleased to know I’ve also planted a tiny fig twig in my Norfolk garden, so in around a decade I might be able to make this from homegrown fruit!)
Recipe: Fig tarte tatin
Tarte tatin is thought of as an impressive dinner party dessert and yet it could hardly be simpler, especially as there’s no reason not to use readymade puff pastry. You could pimp this up with some star anis or vanilla in the syrup, or add some chopped nuts for crunch. But I prefer to keep it old school and let the figs speak for themselves.
75g caster sugar
75g unsalted butter, cubed
320g shop-bought all-butter puff pastry
Between 8 and 10 figs cut in half lengthways
Preheat the oven to 200°C.
Unroll the pastry and place a small ovenproof frying pan on top, cutting a circle around it and leaving about an extra inch around the outside. Set aside.
Place the frying pan over a medium heat and add the sugar. Let it start to caramelise, then add the butter and, once it’s nice and brown, the figs, cut side down. Don’t be tempted to add water as the figs will give out a lot of juice, and you don’t want to make it too wet. If you really feel it needs some liquid, a splash of calvados would go down well! Cook for another few minutes, taking care not to let it burn.
Place the pastry round over the top of the pan, tucking it in around the edges to enclose the figs and caramel. Cut a small air hole in the centre.
Transfer to the oven and bake for around 25 minutes or until the pastry is golden.
Leave to cool for a few minutes, then run a sharp knife around the edge to loosen the pastry. Place a serving plate over the top and invert, so that the pastry is on the bottom.
Serve with a generous spoonful of Greek yoghurt, crème fraiche or (as in this instance) a splodge of squirty cream.
Photo credit (header): Clemens v. Vogelsang