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Once Upon A Fig

There was a fig tree in the backyard of the house where my grandfather was born in Yaguajay, Cuba. I know this because he told me the story-often. Having moved with his family to Havana, he found himself in the province years later and decided to knock on the door of his old house. He asked the family living there if they had a fig tree, and they brought him through the house and showed it to him.  Only then did he tell them who he was and how he knew it was there.  I always wondered why they’d let him go through the house in the first place and pictured their polite confusion while they waited to see where all this was going.  Mostly, I wondered why my grandfather was telling me a story about a tree.  He’d been born at the turn of the last century and lived well into his nineties. He married and raised a family, lived through depressions, wars and revolutions, so I didn’t understand where a story about a fig tree figured.  I didn’t even  like figs then and picked around the dried ones he occasionally slipped into our bread pudding. It’s only as an adult that I learned to love them, fresh or dried.  Of course, I realize now that picking fresh figs from a tree is something to miss.  I’m also happy he repeated the story so many times because I feel that if I ever found myself in Yaguajay, I could find my way to that tree.

Compota de Higos con Vino Tinto y Especias/Fig Compote with Red Wine and Spices
When I posted about calimyrna figs a few weeks ago, I knew that I wanted to try this recipe for fig compote with red wine and spices I found in Simone and Inés Ortega’s 1080 Recipes.  I talk myself out of buying figs sometimes because I can’t use them fast enough.  This is a fast and easy way to use them right away and the spices permeate the house.

3 tablespoons red wine
2 large pieces of thinly pared orange rind
3 tablespoons superfine sugar
1 cinnamon stick
6 cloves
1 sprig fresh mint
12 large figs, peeled

Pour 4 1/2 ounces of water and the wine into a saucepan.  Add the the orange rind, sugar, cinnamon, cloves and mint and bring to a low simmer for 10 minutes.  Add the figs and continue to simmer for 10 minutes.  Remove the figs and set aside in a serving bowl.  Continue to simmer the liquid for 15 minutes.  Strain over figs.  Remove the orange rind and cut into strips then add to compote.  Chill in the refrigerator.

Serves 4-6.

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. A very sweet story 🙂 Your grandfather was a wise man to have befriended the fig tree. There is a quote from Nikos Kazantzakis’s autobiography, where a priest says to an almond tree, “Sister, speak to me God!” And the almond tree blossomed.

    I like to imagine that that is at the heart of your grandfather’s visit to the old tree many years later, to see an old friend who spoke to him in its language for so many years, and fed him, and shaded him and his family through all the turmoil of the years.

    Peace and blessings 🙂

    22 September 2009
  2. hungrysofia #

    Thank you – that’s a beautiful thought.

    22 September 2009
  3. Sofia I jus LOVE your page. This story about figs brings lots of memoirs to my mind specially because I recently posted a story on my blog that is called Breva Brevis I, about two lovers story. If you like you can visit my blog and read about it.

    Keep the great food and the greatest words.


    Yolanda Velázquez

    22 September 2009
  4. ALI #

    I love this posting!!! I will always miss your grandfather. He was a very wise man.

    23 September 2009
  5. hungrysofia #

    From facebook: Maria Lau “I have a fig tree too and its fruit is amazing. To pick it fresh from the tree, so sweet, is a gift. Also the leaves when dried will smell like coconut :)”

    23 September 2009

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