Occasionally things happen in life that are so memorable they stay with you forever.
It might not be anything big or fancy, it may just be a fleeting experience that moves you in some shape or form.
…a dance with a stranger in a backstreet bar, a random act of kindness in the supermarket, a song that takes you right back to a house party in your teens, a food that – with every mouthful – reminds you of a dear friend or an art work that moves you without reason.
And, in the midst of lockdown this happened to me – and it was a culinary affair.
It might not be a secret that I’m a fan of food – I adore the variety of it, the way it can surprise us at every turn, its endless possibilities and the creativity of working with it.
Being confined to the house for so long has meant that many foods have become harder to come by. The ingredients we have relied on for so long have, in many cases, become elusive, and I for one have been more creative with the food I have in store.
So, it’s maybe because of all of this that the culinary insight I had has become so memorable.
It was so unexpected and so achingly different to anything else I’ve had in the last 110 days that it felt ever-so life changing.
It all started a few weeks ago when I learnt that blackcurrant leaves pack as much flavour as the berries themselves. I used them proudly, before the berries were ripe, to impart their flavour in a blackcurrant leaf syrup. I devoured it with prosecco.
It felt like such a simple thing to make but it was so intense and surprising that it got me thinking about using ingredients that we might otherwise overlook.
So the big reveal (drum roll please)…
My culinary moment was all thanks to fig leaves.
Yes, fig leaves.
I picked the fresh young leaves and slung them into a basic sugar syrup – I’d been reliably informed that fig leaves impart a somewhat nutty flavour.
My sources were right but also so horribly wrong.
Yes it was nutty and fresh but as the syrup bubbled away the kitchen became infused in a fog of coconut-scented steam.
I kid you not – fig leaves taste of coconut!
I impatiently waited for the syrup to cool and as soon as the clock hit 1700 I was opening the fridge door and grabbing the first bottle of prosecco I could find.
A dash of syrup later I had the most summery concoction I could wish for.
With one sip, I was immediately whisked away to a foreign land, miles away from this chaos that we find ourselves in, (of course it helped that the temperature was about 27C).
Now, you might be rolling your eyes at this point, but trust me, unless you’ve tried this elixir you really can’t assume I’m being melodramatic!
The flavour was so distinct, so grassy, so nutty, so fragrant, so coconutty – I was already planning a fig leaf ice cream, a panna cotta and barbecued fish cooked in fig leaves.
In the time since, I’ve been feverishly bottling fig leaf syrup and selling it’s virtues to family and friends.
If you have a fig tree you’ll know that it can be prolific in size, year-after-year, without producing a single fruit. At least this way you can harvest a wondrous crop from it regardless of what the fruit is up to (although this year looks like it might be a good year for figs).
Mix the syrup with sparking water, gin and tonic or prosecco, whisk it into a salad dressing, use it in a cocktail or add it to yoghurt and fresh fruit.
If I only ever convert you to one foodie thing, let this be it.
I’m more than happy to open a bottle and share it with you!
(And, if you have a glut of small unripe figs on your tree, try this recipe for preserved green figs – delicious with cheese and biscuits).
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