Monday, 4 September 2006
From the middle of July until the middle of August is quite a dull time. The island is as dry as a bone. Nothing flowers, it is too hot to do anything and the only place where you can enjoy yourself is in the sea. At the end of August however the first fruit will ripen: grapes and figs, the prelude to a rich autumn. Many grapes on this island are diseased. If you do not spray any insecticide, you can forget your grapes. But grapes love to play hide and seek. You will find them in all kinds of unexpected places where they secretly grow fantastic fruit.
Our bunches of grapes were wrinkled and dry. Until we looked on the roof of our outside terrace where the grape winds its branches. We were surprised to find many bunches blinking and healthy there, getting fat in the sun. We also found many grapes in the deserted village of Chalikas, where the grapes did not leave (the inhabitants did after a big landslide) and where they settled high in the walnut trees where they grow spectacular big bunches. They are only to look at, they are too high to pick.
Figs are not so playful. The mostly low trees are easy to empty. In the middle of August figs start to ripen and then it is time to feast on them.
A friend told us that figs are good for high blood pressure and good for cholesterol (figs do not contain any cholesterol) and that is why, although I did not check these healthy characteristics, each day I eat some figs. It will not hurt to eat figs and for sure it is no punishment to eat figs for your health. Figs do not have that many calories and they are full of vitamins A, B, and C and lots of minerals like calcium and magnesium. Figs amongst other things clean your blood and make it thin, they are good against coughs and colds. So for sure we needed the figs when last week the temperature suddenly dropped far below 30°C. It felt like winter was coming soon and I nearly lit the open fire in order to get warm.
Each year I really look forward to the fresh figs, but before you know it they are hanging in the trees like limp bags. You can stuff yourself with fresh figs for one month, but you risk getting annoyed. That is why people learned to preserve them. So that you can enjoy the taste of fresh fruit in the middle of the winter.
There are not that many recipes for preserving grapes. You can squeeze them and then you get... Yes, wine. Each year friends surprise us with home made wine and I must admit, I am never that happy with the home made wine and it is difficult to keep. You can also dry the grapes in order to get raisins. But as far as I could see on internet, making raisins is a complicated business. I'll leave making wine and raisins to the experts.
To preserve figs is much easier. You just lay them in the sun if you want dried figs. When they are nearly dried out you spice them by dipping them in spiced water, you fill them with a walnut or an almond and then finish the drying in the oven. You keep them between bay leaves, which will keep pests out.
Another form of preserving is boiling the figs into a syrup: vrasma or pettimessi. For this you cook many many figs on a wood fire outside and after a day of cooking you will get a delicious syrup which goes well with pancakes, but the Greeks mostly make delicious cakes with it.
However I think the easiest way to preserve fruit is just putting it in some juice and by juice I mean some alcohol. You put them in a pot with sugar and alcohol and you not only get some wonderful tasting fruit in the winter, but also an irresistible liqueur. Although with figs it is not that easy. You can hardly find recipes on the internet for fig liqueur. But we tried it. A large bowl filled with figs marinates in a good splash of alcohol in our cupboard, before we seal it all with sugar in a closed pot.
The nicest discovery of this fig season was the Eastern Fig Compote. You cut 1.5 kg figs in two or three pieces, you cook the figs with 5 cups of sugar, juice from 1 lemon and you add 1 tablespoon of pine nuts and 2 tablespoons of chopped walnuts, 1/2 a teaspoon of mastic and some chopped fennel seeds. You will be delighted to eat this, especially when you serve it with a piece of goat cheese and/or a slice of smoked ham and a glass of port. We are already hooked on it and we really have to take care not to eat all of our winter store.
Therefore I give you a tip for a quick fig snack: cut the fresh fig open, press some soft cheese into it and eat it. Delicious!
Copyright © Smitaki 2006