Fig trees fill the Mediterranean landscape. The fig’s fruit is in fact the core of the blossom. This flower rich plant is the first autumnal fruit. From mid August onwards the ripe fruit seduces you with its green, yellow, purple or even black colours. When they begin to hang down as a soft, full round scrotum, they are at their best. Every summer, when their sweet meat finally hits my tongue, I feel like Buddha, who became enlightened under a fig tree. It is sad though that the ripe figs herald of the end of the lovely summer season.
Around August 15th, the Ascension of Maria, the Greek islands are bursting with holidaymakers: this corona-year more Greeks than other nationalities. The Greeks – mostly from the cities – climb into the trees in search of this delicacy. Some years when the Greek visitors return home, they have left the trees completely bare. It is good that they have not found all the offroad fig trees – those hidden treasures that share their fruit only with birds and other fig eating animals.
Dried figs are a real treat, but nowadays you see less and less of the flat rooftops or surfaces covered with drying figs. Along with preserving, drying figs or reducing them into a syrup has become part of the legendary cooking of grandmothers. I have to admit that I also have given up on drying figs: my house is surrounded by trees which gives the figs little opportunity to dry in the sun. It becomes a daylong job— just to transfer the figs from one sunny spot to another. So now I buy dried figs in Agiasos or Eresos, two places on Lesvos renowned for their figs.
I do occasionally dry some to make fig-grape-walnut cookies, named sikomaida on Corfu.If I do not forget to remove the drying fruit from the shade, or to save them from the first autumnal shower, they will be dry when the grapes are ripe and the walnuts in their green coats fall off the trees. With some luck then you can still find some fig leaves (with which Adam and Eva started their prudery) to wrap the cookies into nice packages, that if stored in the refrigerator can last until Christmas.
In past times the autumnal landscape was enhanced with small columns of smoke from the little fires used to cook figs into a syrup. My neighbour collected all the figs from under the trees and threw them into a huge Asterix-&-Obelix magic cauldron full of boiling water. The ritual started early. Constantly the foam was scooped out of the kettle and the water was refreshed several times until the real boiling down started. Friends and family came and went, ouzo glasses were emptied and refilled and lunch was plentyful. By the time siesta was over, the juices had become thick enough that the bottles could be filled with the sweet syrup pettimezzi.
Dried figs are pretty yummy and give dishes a lovely sweet and nutty bite, but fresh figs are the real challenge while cooking. Their red fleshy mass marries well with bacon, chili, honey and different kinds of melons. Combined with yoghurt in a blender a super healthy drink is produced. Cooked slowly with lamb, their soft sweet taste dances with the light sweet stark taste of the meat. Salads become pieces of art when decorated with opened figs and feta loves some slices of figs, sprinkled with honey.
There are plenty of recipes with fresh figs and every year I try to make a new recipe. I succeeded again this year: a simple fresh Fig and Avocado Egg-Salad for the warm August nights. To serve four:8 ripe figs, 4 hard boiled eggs, 2 ripe avocado, 1 large spoon of crumbled walnut. Dressing:1 large spoon mayonnaise, 1 large spoon Greek yoghurt, a good splash of Asian sweet- sour sauce. Cut the figs, the peeled eggs and the avocados into pieces as big as half a thumb and mix with the walnut pieces. Combine with the dressing and toss. Serve cold. Kaliorexi.