Waiheke and Figs

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Lynley Ruck

Moving house by definition is an unsettling time.  There goes my life, in a truck, over the ocean on a leaky boat, during a dark and stormy night!  But it can also be quite cathartic.  I am one of those personality types that pack by numbers, I know what is inside every single box, and every box is packed tetris-like into a storage facility in LIFO fashion,  that means the cook books are by the door.  When you are packing and sorting and selling and downsizing (again) you don’t get a lot of time for cooking, so I didn’t.  We put protein and salad on a plate and frequented local eateries in a frantic bid to try everything before we left the city. Then we left the city.

We have moved lock, stock and liquid smoking barrel back to the rock, the island – Waiheke that is – black gold – Texas T.  We met on Waiheke , we bought and sold houses on Waiheke, schooled our older children and created our youngest here – and here we are, again.  Through a series of serendipitous events, we are perched high on a clifftop, in a House and Garden rendition of a Balinese spa, gazing out to sea, waiting for our hand to be dealt, and expecting magic, because it’s like that here.  Every morning the sky washes different hues, and the sea is just a slightly different shade of blue, and I wonder at this time of year whether the sun will burn off the morning mist – or whether it will stay cool and fresh as only autumn mornings are.

In the meantime, I have found my mojo not that it was entirely lost, just misplaced, as my marbles are occasionally.  Maybe it was at the bottom of the ‘last minute stuff’ box with the dog’s bowl and the electric jug?   My mojo – the essence of who I am – is cooks/garden culinary, and Waiheke and autumn have conspired and moved me in a way that I haven’t been moved for a long while.

It started with the figs, the succulent, biblical figs.  I look at the bucketful gifted to me and they remind me of the legs of Kereru , who look as fat at cats from underneath the powerlines.  I am lucky to receive a weekly harvest of figs from trees that have been regularly irrigated, a rare luxury on this sun scorched island.   So now, I have mojo, I have figs, a large pot  and a small selection of what I consider to be after culling and storing, my most useful cookbooks.

I have to say, Stephanie Alexander never disappoints.  The layout of her huge book is so intuitive, recipes by ingredient and such a detailed index means that you can always, and I mean always, find a modern twist of an antipodean approach to ingredients that is totally reliable.  So after fennel comes figs, and some great ideas to try, over and above the obvious jam and chutney.   I am tempted to try “Prue’s Sticky Sun-dried Figs”.  The sun, although not of Australian intensity is still pretty hot, and I think I can keep the ants away. The process is what I would call candying, you create a syrup, and poach the fruit over 3 days in ever decreasing circles, and then sun-dry for 3-4 days and roll in sugar and store – I get a bit carried away with poaching syrups and usually overdo the spices, so this time I am careful to take the less is more approach, and the true flavour of fig is coming through – success.  Figs are now translucent and sweet and sticky – just as Prue via Stephanie predicted they would.  Yum. 

Given the regularity of the Fig deliveries and the length of the season, I just have to make jam and chutney –  because I can.  I process a whole lemon into the jam, as dear Stephanie tells me to, and also make a chutney, using a recipe that has flown the coop.  Although I can tell you it contains dates, which carries me anthropologically and geographically to the dawn of civilisation somewhere in the Middle East, where for a brief moment I am a young shepherd with goats and a slingshot  (don’t ask!)

I am leaving the last word on figs to Stephanie, who says “Eating a fully ripe fig warm from the tree is an emotional experience” and it was.



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