Figs deserve more appreciation – especially since they’re at their best this month. Elisha Young, aka @elisha.eats on Instagram, makes a case for why you should give this fruit a chance
For a lot of people, figs are encountered in one of two ways. The first is while visiting your grandparents’ house, where fig rolls were a fixture of the well-stocked biscuit tin, nestled among custard creams and ginger nuts. The second is discovering – with a mixture of horror and fascination – the life cycle of the fig wasp. If you remember Sir David Attenborough narrating the BBC documentary A Perfect Planet, you know what I’m talking about. Otherwise, don’t investigate further – ignorance is bliss.
As much as I like fig rolls, the fresh fruit is delicious in its own right: aromatic and very sweet, with a jammy consistency that lends itself perfectly to baking. My brother claimed he didn’t like figs until I created a fig clafoutis, at which point he set aside his prejudices to single-handedly consume one-third of it. My point is, even if you think you don’t like figs, it’s probably worth giving them another chance.
Even if you think you don’t like figs, it’s probably worth giving them another chance
A good way of dipping your toe in the water is to try grilled figs. Simply halve a very ripe fruit (or two, if they’re small) and generously brush the cut sides with olive oil. Grill or griddle on a high heat for around five minutes, until they have a little colour and are deliciously sticky, then serve with a good spoonful of ricotta (or mascarpone) and drizzle of honey. The figs become even more flavourful and sweet, balanced by the creamy cheese and intensified by the syrupiness of the honey. It’s very difficult not to appreciate figs once you’ve eaten them like this.
If you’ve already been converted, there are plenty of delicious dishes available around Cambridge. For something savoury, Fin Boys on Mill Road serves a cheeseboard accompanied by figs from local company Rennet & Rind (if you happen to get an out-of-season craving, Rennet & Rind also sell slow-baked fig balls and jars of Yorkshire fig chutney). Anyone who shares my sweet tooth would be well-advised to head for the Grain Culture Bake Shop in Ely, where you might be lucky enough to bag yourself a fig and frangipane Danish pastry – although these are seasonal, so keep an eye on the @bakeshop.generalstore Instagram. For something even more adventurous, the newly opened Garden House at Graduate Cambridge serves scoops of fig leaf ice cream.
While many think of figs as relatively exotic, they’re surprisingly easy to grow yourself, and you can even find trees in Cambridge if you know where to look. For the freshest and most local produce, there are lovely fig trees in Mill Road Cemetery, while if you wander a bit further, Culinaris has some absolutely incredible figs on sale. Plus, the fruit stalls at Cambridge Market are extremely well-stocked, meaning you can pick out the best and ripest fruits to take home.
What will I be making with figs? Nothing complicated – although I do have my eye on a honey and fig tart recipe. This year, I’m more interested in a new addition to my family garden: our own fig tree. Although it hasn’t borne any fruit yet, I can’t wait until next September, when I’m going to sit on our garden bench and enjoy a soft, sun-ripened fig plucked straight from the branch. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Follow Elisha’s Instagram account (@elisha.eats) for more foodie content and inspiration.