Figs and a flash back to summer by Lottie Sharland
A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to spend a week in Provence, staying in our family house in a little hamlet called Beth, around 40 minutes from Avignon. We spent a blissful week browsing brocantes for unusual finds for the Squash Court, sipping chilled wine by the pool and filled our evenings barbecuing all the delicious, seasonal food this wonderful part of the world has to offer. I’m now back in Dorset feeling refreshed and ready for autumn however, after this rather grey start to the week there’s no denying that a small part of my heart is still longing for those long, lazy summer days.
I may not have been able to bring back the sunshine, or that enviable way of life, but I have been able to bring back another reminder of summer in the South of France, Provencal figs. Picked straight off the trees, still warm from the sun, these soft succulent purple fruits deliver the sweetest flavour, and served in a tart, alongside cheese and drizzled with honey, or as part of a Parma ham and goats cheese salad, they are one of my favourite things about summer.
The fig season lasts from late June to early autumn, with different varieties ripening at slightly different times, luckily for us our fig tree in France was perfect for picking exactly when we were there. Look for a change in colour, depending on the variety usually from green to purple or brown, and a drooped appearance. The fig should be hanging from its stem, will be soft to the touch and slightly bulbous, almost as though it can’t support the weight of all that sweet goodness packed inside it. Once picked figs won’t ripen off the tree, therefore their shelf life is incredibly short. They will go off within a matter of days in the fruit bowl and for this reason if you can’t preserve them serve them straight away - the less time between plant and plate the better!
Fig trees grow best when they are exposed to direct sunlight; we have 2 in our kitchen garden at Deans Court both of which have produced a good crop this year and currently feature on the Squash Court menu. If you haven’t already you need to try our fig and frangipane tart, it’s simply delicious. Because they like warmer climates though it’s our tree in Provence that really provides the cream of the crop. So, back to how I’ve managed to smuggle some of these precious Provencal figs home. Well, as mentioned figs won’t last for long once picked, they need to be preserved, and in-between sipping my glass of rose in the sun and reading my book, this is exactly what I did. I harvested our fig tree and cooked up batches of the most delicious fig chutney, which I packed in my suitcase and have bought back to Wimborne ready to serve in the Squash Court Café.
So as September settles in and with it the days grow shorter and a fresh chill creeps into the air pop into our cafe for a spoonful of this sweet purple preserve, which served alongside a Serrano Ham Panini or in our Deans Court fig and goats cheese salad is a little reminder of summer and, for me certainly, a flashback to those perfect Provencal days.
I use a slight adaption to a Nigel Slater fig chutney recipe (only adapted because I didn’t have all the ingredients), which I’ve put a link to below, alongside a fig jam recipe I made last summer and my absolute favour fig and frangipane tart. All of which are served in the café.