Monday, 17 September 2012

Plums are not the only fruit

The last couple of posts have been on stuff to do with plums, lots of plums (and there’s still jam and tart to come…), but I wouldn’t want you to go away with the idea that this blog is all, and only, about plums these days.  Of course it’s not.  And of course this time of year, the end of the summer and beginning of autumn, is famously the most abundant time ofyear for all sorts of fruit and veg – not to mention wild mushrooms and game.

While it may not be a common feature of the traditional English harvest festival, one of the conspicuous highlights of this time of year round here – here being Dalston, with its many Turkish shops, - is the abundance, and perfect plump ripeness, of fresh figs.  They are, it’s true, available through much of the rest of the year too, these days, but between now and Christmas is the only time they are ever worth buying, and right about this time, from mid August and throughout September, is best of all.  And one of the things that reminds me to be thankful that we live in Dalston, with its many Turkish shops, in any one of which you can buy four figs for a pound.  A rather better deal than the in no way superior looking figs I came across in Fortnum and Masons the other day - having an hour to kill in Piccadilly - being sold for a pound fifty a piece (or four for six pounds).

A perfectly ripe fig is of course, a beautiful and lusciously tempting thing, with its velveteen soft, purple skin and yielding, crimson insides.  It’s easy to see why it has such strong associations with decadence and, mainly, sex.  Although whether or not the experience of eating one is ever actually erotic, I’m not so sure.  Speaking for myself, of course.  Clearly one of the defining features of eroticism is that every individual finds it where they will, and there’s no point trying to say they’re wrong.  If a fig turns you on – or wearing a ball gag or nappy for that matter – who am I to argue that there’s nothing erotic about it.  Speaking for myself, as I am, I’d say pretty much anything loses its erotic potential once that relentless enthusiast for all things erotic - and, particularly, symbolic – DH Lawrence has had done with it…

Like plums, figs are used as direct slang for intimate body parts.  Unlike plums, or anything else I can think of, for that matter, figs have been commonly used as slang for both male and female parts, which is a bit weird but nowhere near as weird as the sex life of the fig itself – if one can use the term sex life for the reproductive mechanism of a plant.  The fruit is in fact an inverted flower, which depends on a particular kind of wasp (of which there is a matching species for each distinct species of fig, and for whom the dependency is mutual) to pollinate it, and within which the female wasp, having pollinated it and laid her eggs within it, dies, and is consumed.  It seems to me that once you know that, any erotic charge that the fig still holds is of a pretty dark, one might say Cronenbergian hue…

Nevertheless, and putting to the back of your mind that every time you eat a fig you’re eating a dead wasp mother (but don’t worry, the lifecycles of the two organisms are, thankfully, synchronised in such a way that there will be no wasp larvae present in any edible fig), a perfectly ripe fig is not only a beautiful and tempting thing, but a sublimely delicious one.  Eat them on their own, with a drizzle of honey or maple syrup.  Or, as I did recently, make a salad of quartered figs, wedges of peach and shredded parma or Serrano ham.  Again, a light drizzle of maple syrup to dress it, and you have yourself a lusciously decadent and delicious – if not downright erotic – lunch , or better still, breakfast, dish.

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