I’m always really excited when I find a fig tree – like something in me forgets that I live in England now, and I’ve yet to pick a ripe fig from a tree – even here in the very South of England.
Fortunately a South African friend of mine invited me round to her house last year, and out of her cupboard she brought a jar of green fig preserve, reminding me how, back home, we used to deal with the figs before the birds could get to them.
This is one of many recipes – in reading up on it, I realise that it’s also something the Turkish do, so who knows how it made it’s way into the South African diet – to me it’s definitely a South African staple, so here’s the recipe, should you too have access to a big fig tree that never bears fruit. You’ll never look back.
Two things: it’s a bit fiddly to get the figs to the point of ready, but well worth the effort. Also, I don’t tend to add the spices in the boil. I add them to jars when they’re ready to be bottled up – this means I might have a fig and cardamom, a fig and cinnamon or a fig and clove, slightly different flavours, which keeps it fun and exciting.
Sometimes the figs we find are really big – too big to fit into gifting or ‘single portion’ (aka, enough for one meal) jars. If that’s the case, halve or quarter the figs before adding them to the sugar syrup. It doesn’t look as pretty in the jar, but in reality, when you pull them out to eat on your crackers you would rarely eat a whole one on a single cracker anyway.
Spices (cloves, cinnamon stick or cardamom all work well)
Juice of 1 lemon
Bring a pot of water to boil - just enough to cover the figs. Add the figs and boil for ten minutes. Empty out and refill the pot, bringing the figs to boil and boiling for another ten minutes. This is important, as it's what makes them lose the bitter/unripe taste.
Drain and leave to cool.
Once cool enough to touch, squeeze the figs - there may may be some white liquid that drains out. If there's still a lot of white juice, boil again for ten more minutes, then squeeze again. It seems fiddly, but is well worth it!
In a clean pot, bring the 1.250ml water to boil and add sugar. Once the sugar is dissolved, add the squeezed figs. They will resume their original shape during this process, unless of course, you've cut them.
Add the spices of choice* and boil figs in the sugar syrup for about 25 minutes. Add the lemon juice and boil 5 minutes more.
Pour into sterilised jars, making sure the syrup covers the figs. *I tend to leave out the spices in the previous step and add different spices into the jars at this point so that I have different spice varieties. Close while hot to create a vacuum seal.
Keep in a cool dark place, and transfer to the fridge once opened as it's actually best cold, served with goats cheese and parma ham - or just goats cheese if you're veggie.
We love dandelions, and this time of year, they are plentiful. We pick them to make Dandelion Pesto and Dandelion Fritters, and I’m currently brewing my first batch of dandelion wine too. But our favourite thing to do with dandelions is to tempura them, or as my children call it ‘Dandelion Popcorn’ – little balls of fried dandelions.
A few things to note about about picking dandelions:
Pick dandelions in full sun, so that they are wide open. In the morning and evening they will be closed.
Cook them as soon as you can. They begin closing up as soon as they are picked, so getting them in batter quickly is preferred.
There are little black bugs that live in dandelions, so make sure you rinse them and leave them a little while to give the bugs chance to escape.
Some tips on tempura batter:
Different recipes call for different ingredients, obviously, but the important thing is making sure your water is as cold as possible.
I think it works best with sparkling water, but normal water works well too – so long as it’s cold.
Once you start dipping the dandelion heads work quickly. It’s worth having the batter in two bowls so that you can dip a batch, and have the other bowl in the freezer, then swap the bowls over before you start dipping again. The colder the batter, the less oil the dandelion takes on.
You will need:
85g of plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
200ml icy cold sparkling water
Wash the dandelions and leave set aside to drive so as to keep the fried batter crispy.
Add the flour, salt and sugar to a bowl.
Pour in the sparkling water and mix till just combined. If you over mix you push out all the air bubbles, but you also increase the gluten content, so don’t over mix.
(In the Thermomix®, add all the ingredients and mix 20 seconds speed 4).
Split the batter between two bowls, and leave them in the freezer or fridge.
Heat the oil. Take a bowl from the freezer. Hold the dandelion by the green part, and dip it lightly in the batter, making sure to cover everything. Drop the dandelion into the hot oil and fry for 1 – 2 minutes, till a golden brown.
Remove to a bowl with absorbent towel or draining board and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Alternatively with icing sugar and lemon juice.
Wild garlic fills my head with romantic images of rolling hills, blue skies and sparkling oceans – probably because of the two places I’ve found it growing in the wild. It’s a beautiful herb or plant or whatever it is. It is pungent, and fills the air with the smell of delicious food, but sweet… it’s hard to explain – a non-offensive garlic. Truly beautiful.
The flower itself is a pretty white, delicate little thing, hard to miss, and it brightens my day whenever I see it. You can eat the leaves as is – they are delicious with deli meats on fresh bread, and you can also add a bit more oil and turn it into a pesto for pasta, or even in omelettesor scones.
I hope you enjoy this beautiful plant as much as I do!
I love wild garlic. It's a plant that actually excites me, and I've only seen it in the wild in Somerset and on the Isle of Wight. I'm sure it grows in other places - I know it does, since I transplanted some into my back yard! This dip takes less than a minute to prepare once you have your ingredients together. Eat it with crackers, or, ahem... just eat it!
Recipe type: Dip
10g Wild Garlic & Flowers
30g Hard Cheese
20g Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper to taste
Add the wild garlic, cashew, cheese and olive oil to your food processor.
Blend until it's the consistency you like. Blitz for 15 - 30 seconds depending on your preferred consistency. (Thermomix®: Speed 4/ 20 - 30 Seconds)
Here’s a simple little recipe to try with your Ramsons and a few bits and pieces from the fridge. It’s a great starting place if you’re not used to cooking with foraged food. Ramsons are a great source of Vitamin C and iron, and their pungent garlic smell makes them really easy to identify in the wild. They’re ideal for teaching children about foraging, and are very versatile in savoury food. You can also use them in sandwiches and salads – anything you would use salad, basil or other greens for.