As the evenings catch a chill and the leaves begin to turn glorious reds and golds and browns, our appetites also begin to long for the heartier textures and flavors of Autumn meals. Yet, for many of us, this transitional season finds produce departments and farmers’ markets still stocked with late summer harvests. Just a few trips to market ago, I found myself captivated by the pints of figs that were on display. I picked some up, and continued to the next table where the most glorious deep orangey-pink plumcots were calling my name.
About a month ago, I was aboard the R.S.S. Queen Mary, now a floating hotel in Long Beach Harbor just South of Los Angeles. I dined in their family-oriented restaurant, and as I studied the menu, I realized that there was probably not one food item that was served while the Queen was a luxury liner. After doing a little research, I came up with the original menus for the Queen Mary. The food was mostly meat and vegetables, and the desserts were simple like stewed figs. I suppose that idea popped back into my head when I purchased the figs, because I had only one intention for them: stewing.
I read no recipes to figure out how to stew fruits. I already had some ideas of my own. Besides, it seemed rather self-explanatory. Instead of adding white sugar, I placed a cone of piloncillo into the pot with the figs. I also added a cinnamon stick, several whole star anise and several chiles japoneses. I didn’t peel the plumcots, I just washed and sliced them, added them to the pot and simmered it on a low flame for several hours. Because I chose to use reduction instead of a thickening agent, this recipe is gluten-free.
The results were exactly what I had hoped for. The flavor was deep and earthy with muted sweet tones. The chiles japoneses added no perceptible fire, but without them, sweet would have overpowered savory. I enjoyed a small portion (about 1/4 cup) warm the first time, and on another occasion, I used the warm stewed figs with plumcots as a topping for frozen coconut cream dessert.
Figs are an ancient and nutritious fruit that are grown in Turkey, Greece, Spain, Portugal and California. Figs were mentioned in the Holy Bible, and the wolf that nursed Romulus and Remus in the Ancient Roman myth was said to have rested under a fig tree. It’s no wonder that figs are still around as they are high in fiber which can promote weight loss, potassium which can help control blood pressure, and may also aid in warding off post-menopausal breast cancer and maintaining bone density.
Follow this simple recipe to create a unique and versatile treat.
1 pint figs, washed and stemmed
4 plumcots (also known as pluots), washed
1 cinnamon stick
5 chiles japoneses
3 dried star anise
1 splash red wine (I used Cabernet Sauvignon)
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1. Thoroughly wash the figs and plumcots. Do not peel the fruit. Slice the plumcots into about 8 medium slices.
2. In a medium pot, place 1 tbsp. water, the figs and the plumcots. Turn the fire on to a low setting (on my stove I used “2” on the dial.)
3. Add the piloncillo, cinnamon stick, chiles, wine, vanilla and star anise.
4. Place the lid on the pot and simmer until the fruit falls apart. Stir occasionally.
5. Once the fruit has lost its shape, remove the star anise. Keep the pot uncovered, and raise the flame to a medium setting. Stir frequently as the liquid reduces over the higher flame.
6. When the mixture is still moist but not liquidy, remove from the flame. Add the lemon juice and stir.
7. Let cool for five minutes before serving.
8. Enjoy in a small dessert dish, as a topping for yogurt or frozen coconut cream, or make a sweet quesadilla with cream cheese and stewed figs and plumcots.