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First Fruits


I just picked my first figs of the season. With over 100 degree temperatures here in Texas, it's no wonder the fruits are ripening on the vine. What is a wonder is that the birds and squirrels have not yet discovered the green-brown jewels in the corner of the front garden.

The figs were sweet and fleshy, just like they were made to be. But truth be told, they were not like the figs I buy in the markets of Provence. A mon avis (in my opinion), figs and Provence were made for each other. During the summertime in the south of France, I could almost eat nothing but big fresh juicy figs and be happy…well, almost.


But then there are the ripe apricots and strawberries and cerises (cherries) and mirabelles (plums) and almonds. Fresh almonds fascinate me with their thick, green, furry exterior that protects the tender white nut inside.



What's wonderful about Provence is that you don't have to wait for market time to see and taste ripe fruit. My daily walks on narrow country roads take me past wild fruit trees of every persuasion. I end up filling my pockets with the fresh treasures and make a wild fruit bowl when I return chez moi.


Coming back to figs, I am not the only one celebrating the Mediterranean regional fruit. Restaurant chefs and artisan food makers take advantage of nature's bounty and offer figs in all kinds of dishes and recipes. At the outdoor market in St. Rémy-de-Provence, you can find saucisson aux figues (fig salami).


At the restaurant Le Fournil in the terraced town of Bonnieux in the Luberon region of Provence, I enjoyed a lovely entrée (starter) of foie gras and fresh fig and confiture de figue (fig jam).


But la pièce de la résistance was the special duck cooked with fig leaves in an iron dutch oven at the legendary Oustau de Baumanière in Les Baux de Provence. While my photo of the duck nestled in fig leaves turned out a bit fuzzy, the photo of the prepared dish turned out marvelously. I have used fresh fig leaves on cheese trays but never in a cooked dish. This special meal has inspired me to use the fruit as well as les feuilles (the leaves).


While fig season of course happens only in summer, one can always make summer in winter with la confiture de figues (fig jam). When making toast in on a cloudy day in January, I have only to pull out un bocal (a jar) of fig jam, and I am instantly transported to a sunny Mediterranean locale. But given that winter is a ways off yet, I will take advantage of the garden variety fig-before the birds discover my bountiful cache.


French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter™

One of the ways I like to serve figs is as simple as possible. This recipe combines two signature flavors of Provence-with magical results.

Goat Cheese With Figs
12 ripe figs
6 thin slices dry-cured ham such as Prosciutto
8 ounces goat cheese (no rind)
16 mint leaves, chopped
Sea salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
French olive oil

Wash and dry figs carefully. Cut off the stem and cut each fig nearly to the base. Turn each fig and cut again so that the fig is cut nearly in quarters. Squeeze each fig carefully to open up the fruit. Set aside.
Crumble the goat cheese in a bowl, add the mint leaves, season with salt and pepper and combine.

Arrange the figs on a large platter and spoon the goat cheese mixture in the center of each fig. Drape a ribbon of ham onto each fig and drizzle with French olive oil. Serve at room temperature with a lovely bottle of Provençal rosé wine.
(Adapted from "The French Market: More Recipes From a French Kitchen" by J. Harris and F. Warde).

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