Sunday, July 13, 2008

Figues Fraîches

I was at a small gourmet market this morning and saw these smiling up at me:

I had to take them home. Then, of course, comes the delightful dilemma of figuring out what to do with them. In the end, I didn't feel like fooling around with panna cotta or tart dough, so I took the path of least resistance:

They're nestled in some Greek yogurt, drizzled with honey, then sprinkled with walnuts. I think figs are highly under appreciated here in the States. In my parents' orchard we have several fig trees, but it's been so long since I've had fresh figs. I didn't realize I've been missing their tender, mellow, date-like sweetness.

I now also have a hankering for fig fragrances, though I have yet to sniff one. I have a feeling I'll like that figgy note. Two prominent fig fragrances are L'Artisan Parfumuer's Premier Figuier and Diptyque's Philosykos. I find it interesting that both fragrances are supposedly rather "green" smelling, since the notes involve not only the fruit but also the leaves and sap of a fig tree. If anyone has ever picked figs, they'll know that a milky sap oozes out from the stems.

But...I'd rather just have the fruit, please. I find I'm attracted to perfumes that are slightly edible - not too foody or sweet but evocative enough to hit that space in the brain that hums "mmmm" happily to itself. Then a fragrance is sensual enough to involve more than just one sense.

There is no fig flower fragrance to conjure up in perfumery, however. In Chinese, fig is "wu hua guo," literally "fruit without flowers" - the fig has its flowers on the inside of its fruit - what's known as an "enclosed inflorescence." Here's a meditation on this hidden fertility, as well as on sweet fig flesh, by D. H. Lawrence. Who better to wax poetic on such themes?


by D. H. Lawrence

The proper way to eat a fig, in society,
Is to split it in four, holding it by the stump,
And open it, so that it is a glittering, rosy, moist, honied, heavy-petalled four-petalled flower.
Then you throw away the skin
Which is just like a four-sepalled calyx,
After you have taken off the blossom, with your lips.
But the vulgar way
Is just to put your mouth to the crack, and take out the flesh in one bite.
Every fruit has its secret.
The fig is a very secretive fruit.
As you see it standing growing, you feel at once it is symbolic:
And it seems male.
But when you come to know it better, you agree with the Romans, it is female.
The Italians vulgarly say, it stands for the female part ; the fig-fruit:
The fissure, the yoni,
The wonderful moist conductivity towards the centre.
The flowering all inward and womb-fibrilled;
And but one orifice.
The fig, the horse-shoe, the squash-blossom.
There was a flower that flowered inward, womb-ward;
Now there is a fruit like a ripe womb.
It was always a secret.
That’s how it should be, the female should always be secret.
There never was any standing aloft and unfolded on a bough
Like other flowers, in a revelation of petals;
Silver-pink peach, venetian green glass of medlars and sorb-apples,
Shallow wine-cups on short, bulging stems
Openly pledging heaven:
Here’s to the thorn in flower ! Here is to Utterance !
The brave, adventurous rosaceæ.
Folded upon itself, and secret unutterable,
And milky-sapped, sap that curdles milk and makes ricotta,
Sap that smells strange on your fingers, that even goats won’t taste it;
Folded upon itself, enclosed like any Mohammedan woman,
Its nakedness all within-walls, its flowering forever unseen,
One small way of access only, and this close-curtained from the light;
Fig, fruit of the female mystery, covert and inward,
Mediterranean fruit, with your covert nakedness,
Where everything happens invisible, flowering and fertilization, and fruiting
In the inwardness of your you, that eye will never see
Till it’s finished, and you’re over-ripe, and you burst to give up your ghost.
Till the drop of ripeness exudes,
And the year is over.
And then the fig has kept her secret long enough.
So it explodes, and you see through the fissure the scarlet.
And the fig is finished, the year is over.
That’s how the fig dies, showing her crimson through the purple slit
Like a wound, the exposure of her secret, on the open day.
Like a prostitute, the bursten fig, making a show of her secret.
That’s how women die too.
The year is fallen over-ripe,
The year of our women.
The year of our women is fallen over-ripe.
The secret is laid bare.
And rottenness soon sets in.
The year of our women is fallen over-ripe.
When Eve once knew in her mind that she was naked
She quickly sewed fig-leaves, and sewed the same for the man.
She’d been naked all her days before,
But till then, till that apple of knowledge, she hadn’t had the fact on her mind.
She got the fact on her mind, and quickly sewed fig-leaves.
And women have been sewing ever since.
But now they stitch to adorn the bursten fig, not to cover it.
They have their nakedness more than ever on their mind,
And they won’t let us forget it.
Now, the secret
Becomes an affirmation through moist, scarlet lips
That laugh at the Lord’s indignation.
What then, good Lord! cry the women.
We have kept our secret long enough.
We are a ripe fig.
Let us burst into affirmation.
They forget, ripe figs won’t keep.
Ripe figs won’t keep.
Honey-white figs of the north, black figs with scarlet inside, of the south.
Ripe figs won’t keep, won’t keep in any clime.
What then, when women the world over have all bursten into affirmation?
And bursten figs won’t keep ?

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