Falling for Figs and Plums at Wickwood

"I am against marriage, and I don't give a fig for society."   
 --- Bridget Bardot

My Front Porch Fig Tree

This year for the first time, my seven year old fig tree actually bore fruit. Granted it was only six figs, but they were delicious and they were mine. Everyone insisted only I eat them. So I did. I’m sure it’s a sign of great things to come as the trees mature slowly, then produce for years . I’ve long loved figs since first picking them off a tree on the island of Mykonos in 1968. I’ll never forget that luscious warm sweetness. We simply could not get enough.

Now that they’re in season, we’ve begun serving them at Wickwood, generally simply wrapped with prosciutto. Simple is better with their delicate flavor. Or, we’ll pair them with cheese, be it Gorgonzola, feta, mozzarella, an aged Gouda, or mascarpone, stuffed and under the broiler for just a moment until they ooze.

Purple Fig and Pine Nut Pizza
The sweet taste of fresh figs, onion confit and Roquefort are an extraordinary combination of colors and flavors . This is one of our favorite! Serves 2.

1 ball pizza dough or one pre-made pizza crust or lavash (10-12”)
1 pound fresh spinach, trimmed, well rinsed, patted dry, and coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
Pinch of ground nutmeg
1 cup onion confit (recipe right)
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
¼ cup raisins
2 ripe purple figs, quartered
2 teaspoons lemon zest
Extra virgin olive oil
½ cup Roquefort or Mozzerella (optional)

1. Pre-heat the oven to 450°F for dough (400°F for lavash). When the oven is almost ready, lightly oil a pizza pan and sprinkle with cornmeal.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large nonstick skillet. Add the spinach, garlic, and nutmeg and cook until just wilted, 3-4 minutes. Drain well and set aside.
3. On a well-floured surface, press the dough and form a 12-inch circle. If using a pre-made crust or lavash, place directly on the prepared pizza pan, and spread the onion confit over it leaving a ½ inch rim. Top with the reserved spinach mixture.
4. Sprinkle the spinach with the pine nuts and raisins. Arrange the fig quarters decoratively on top and sprinkle with the lemon zest.
5. Drizzle lightly with olive oil, sprinkle the cheese, and bake until the crust is golden brown, 15-20 minutes.

"When you are young simply put fig leaves together and
make an apron. When you are old , sit under your tree."
                                                                   --- Charles Dickens

Fig Salad with Port Vinaigrette
This is a fabulous salad to serve on the side of grilled sausages, lamb chops, pork, chicken or country bread. It’s even hearty enough as an entrée with slivers of prosciutto tossed in. Serves 4.

3 tablespoons olive oil
½ small red onion
2 cups Port wine
½ cup dry red wine
1 tablespoon molasses
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

12 fresh figs
4 cups mesclun, mache, or arugula
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 ounces Stilton, Gorgonzola or Roquefort cheese, crumbled

1. In a small saucepan, over medium heat, cook the onion until soft. Add the Port and red wine and cook until thickened and reduced to ½ cup. Transfer the reduced liquid to a bowl or blender and add the molasses, balsamic vinegar, thyme and salt and pepper and blend until well combined. Slowly, add the olive oil until emulsified.
2. Place the vinaigrette in a large sauté pan and bring to a simmer on the stove. Add the figs and cook for 1 to 2 minutes.
3. Place the greens in a large salad bowl with the olive oil and season with the salt and pepper. Transfer to a large platter and using a slotted spoon, place the figs on top. Sprinkle the salad with the cheese and drizzle with some of the remaining vinaigrette.

"The fig tree is only cursed when it is barren."
                                                               --- Epictetus

Damson Plums

Damson Plum Brandy
The Silver Palate’s line of preserved fruits, vegetables, sauces, etc. all began with Damson Plum Brandy, made by my Mom in Kalamazoo. It’s a fond memory, us sitting on the back of their boat, docked at The Saugatuck Yacht Club, pricking plums in the sunshine, juice dripping down our forearms. A family tradition to be served Christmas Eve, we had made brandy for years, but now instead of by the hour, bushel after bushel, we spent several days pricking plums in the September sunshine. Of course, that first year we sold it as Damson Plums in Brandy, even though there was much more brandy than plums, so sure were my Mom and Dad that I’d go to jail for selling liquor in our little shop. They sold out immediately. We were on our way. I love sharing the recipe and the memory.

5 pounds Damson Plums (Raspberries, or Blackberries)
5 pounds granulated sugar
1 Fifth of Vodka

1. Pierce the plums’ skin with a fork until there are holes all over the plums. Place the plums in a three quart glass jar, fitted with a lid. Add the vodka and sugar and cover. Place in a cool dark place.
2. Once a week, for about 2 months, open the jar and stir the brandy well. Then strain the finished brandy through a very fine sieve into a lovely decanter for serving. Reserve the plums (in the fridge) for dessert over ice cream or cake, or topped with a dollop of sour or whipped cream.

"Some colleges take plum students and turn them into prunes."
                                                                       --- Logan Smith

Figs are Gems

Figs are a fruit dating back to the beginning of civilization. The trees are baked in the sun, and bear such fragile fruits that we are more accustomed to eating them dried rather than fresh. But when they’re in season, we urge you to snap them up! The rest of the world has long been in on the secret. There are three varieties here: Black Mission figs, which are purple, honey flavored, and rich; Calimyrna figs, which are amber colored and richly flavored; and Kadota figs, which are green fragrant, with a lighter sweet flavor. All may be used interchangeably. They are very delicate and must be shipped carefully. Enjoy when you first buy them, these gems would be a shame to allow to over ripen.

Onion Confit

We make large batches of this to freeze so that we’re always one step ahead. Yields 1 cup.

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 large onions, slivered
½ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 tablespoon sherry or Balsamic vinegar

1. Heat oil and butter in a heavy saucepan over low heat. Add the onions and pepper and cook until completely wilted, slowly stirring occasionally. 35-40 minutes.
2. Add the vinegar, stir and cook for an additional 15 minutes. Cool, cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Freezes well.

The Plum Reward

These plump, juicy, full flavored fruits are just beginning to be in the Farmer’s Markets. Snap them up while you can. They may be red, green, yellow, purple, scarlet, blue or black, each with a distinctive , but delicious flavor. There are basically two types of plums, European and Japanese. European plums are tart and fairly small. Japanese are large, sweet and very juicy. Firm plums will ripen at room temperature within a day or two if they are hard. Ripe plums can be stored in the refrigerator for several days. Peeling a plum makes it a little less tart, but if the plum is ripe, the peel should come off easily.

Plum and Beaujolais Soup

This cool soup, served in a small lovely glass along with a plate of cookies for the table is a fabulous light dessert during Indian Summer. It just captures the season perfectly. Serves 8

5 pounds, ripe purple plums, halved and pitted
3½ cups light fruity Beaujolais
2 cups water
2 medium-size oranges, thinly sliced
1 lemon, thinly sliced
8 whole cloves
2 pieces (3 inches each) cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup Grand Marnier
Grated zest of 1 orange (garnish)

1. Combine all ingredients, except the Grand Marnier and orange zest in a large heavy pan over medium heat. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat to low and simmer covered for 1 hour. Let cool slightly.
2. Remove and discard the orange and lemon slices, cinnamon sticks, and cloves.
3. Process the plums and liquid in a blender or food processor until smooth. Strain through a sieve into a bowl. Add the Grand Marnier and refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving. Garnish with a little dusting of orange zest.

A Fig and Plum Sunset


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