The sun is out and it’s a gloriously beautiful day.
On a potter through the garden I passed one of the fig trees and caught the most wonderful scent.
If you didn’t already know, fig leaves carry an intense coconut scent and flavour. I kid you not.
Even now, as the garden and all the plants that have sustained us over the summer months start to die back or hibernate, the fig tree reminds us that we can still make use of it.
Long gone are the ripe, gooey, indulgent fruits and now, we’re left with the leaves and fruits too small to ripen.
In an average year we would normally harvest hundreds of sweet, juicy figs from three mature trees in the garden. This year the harvest amounted to the grand total of zero fruits. I’m going to put this down to a lack of fig wasps earlier in the year and the weather – not only did the temperatures fluctuate but so did moisture levels, which meant there wasn’t the sustained heat to ripen them or to allow the smaller ones to grow.
But, all is not lost – you can use both the leaves and unripened fruit to wondrous effect in the kitchen – it’s the perfect time to preserve some of that goodness so you can continue enjoying it throughout the winter months.
Let’s start with the figs themselves, most trees will still be holding onto dark green, walnut sized fruits that didn’t make it to fruition earlier in the year.
Pick them, scrub them, soak them, boil them and bottle them in a sugar syrup and you will have jars of unctuously sweet treats throughout the year. Serve the preserved figs with platters of cheese and biscuits – try my recipe for preserved green figs.
Back to the leaves – they’re astonishingly versatile and can be used as long as they cling to the tree.
If your tree is anything like mine the fig leaves are dropping rapidly. So, now is the time to grab any remaining small, dark green leaves and have a go at some of these culinary delights…
- Fig leaf syrup – Mix sugar and water to a ratio of 50:50. I usually use 250ml water to 250g sugar. Place the mix in a saucepan and heat until the sugar melts, stirring. Throw in four or five fig leaves and allow them to infuse until the syrup tastes as you’d like. For me this can never be too long. Remove the leaves once the flavour is as intense as you’d like it. Be careful as the syrup takes a long time to cool. Once cool it’s ready to bottle into a sterilised jar. Keep in the fridge and use in cocktails, drizzle over ice cream and pancakes and use in salad dressings – try these ideas for fig leaf syrup.
- Dried fig leaves – This is a good way of preserving the leaves so you can use them throughout the year. You can either do this in the oven – place the leaves on a baking tray and dry in an oven preheated to 100C fan until they start to curl and the veins golden – or in a dehydrator (55C for 90 minutes). You can store these in an airtight container and then use them to make syrups, ice cream and dressings throughout the winter and spring when fresh leaves are not available.
- Salmon baked in fig leaves – Fig leaves work beautifully with salmon. Wrapping salmon fillets in fig leaves keeps the fish moist and also introduces a coconut flavour to the fish. To bake the fillets, season with salt and pepper and use enough fresh fig leaves to wrap the salmon entirely, overlapping them if needed. You can secure with string or place the side where the fig leaves overlap on the underside. Bake in a roasting dish in a preheated oven (200C fan) for about 10 minutes. The leaves will begin to blister and the salmon should be just cooked. Serve with the accompaniments of your choice. I like buttery new potatoes, some samphire and a lemon sauce.
- Wrap cheese – Much like you can use lovage leaves to wrap cheese, you can do the same with fig leaves. Wrapping the cheese means that the flavour of the herb is imparted into the cheese over time. Fig leaves work well with a robust goats cheese. Wrap the cheese in dry fig leaves, covering it entirely before parceling the cheese in greaseproof paper and tying with string. Leave for a week or more and enjoy.
- Fig leaf ice cream – The coconut flavours of the leaves paired with an indulgent creamy ice cream are a perfect match. Here’s my recipe…
Fig leaf ice cream
- 5 Fig leaves fresh or dried
- 250 ml whole milk
- 250 ml double cream
- 3 egg yolks
- 87 g caster sugar
If you're using fresh fig leaves, dry them first. Heat the oven to 100C fan, place the leaves on a baking tray and heat until the leaves start to curl and the veins start to turn golden.
Using a heavy-based saucepan, warm the milk and cream together with the fig leaves over a gentle heat until the mixture starts to steam (make sure it doesn't reach boiling point).
In a bowl mix together the sugar and egg yolks.
Pour a little of the warm milk and cream mixture onto egg mixture whisking continuously. (I find it easier to pour the milk mixture from the saucepan into a jug before doing this).
Continue adding the milk mixture to the egg mixture a little at a time, whisking all the time.
Pour the combined mixture back into the saucepan and continue to cook over a low heat until the mixture starts to thicken and coats the back of a spoon, stirring all the time.
Pour this custard mix through a sieve into a clean bowl and allow to cool. Place in the fridge until cold.
Transfer to an ice-cream maker and freeze once set. If making by hand place the mixture in an air-tight container and freeze for an hour and then mix in a food processor. Freeze for another two hours and mix again, do this one more time after another two hours and place back in freezer.