Friday, 5 August 2016
Figs and capers and our poor old walnut tree
Figs will be ripe in a couple of weeks. These ones are hanging over our neighbour's wall. Forbidden fruit is so much tastier.
Figs are high in potassium and may help to control blood pressure. They also may help in weight control. I thought they were high in sugar and not at all good for those on a diet. A few figs a day will keep your bowels 'regular' (maybe that's how your weight is controlled lol).
You can eat the leaves too. They have an insulin lowering effect. Or wear them like Adam and Eve.
It goes without saying that figs were eaten in ancient Greece (traced to 9th century BC ). Nowadays they seem to pop up often in gourmet cuisine stuffed with goats cheese or poached in red wine.
I will give the last word to my dear departed mother in law. Her family down the road, up the hill and round the corner (45 minutes away) in the little village of Megalohori had fig trees and they dried the figs in the sun and stored them to eat in the winter, often pushing an almond (from their own almond trees) into the middle of the dried fig or sprinkling them with sesame seeds before eating.
To dry the figs they are dipped first in boiling water for half a minute, probably to kill any creepy crawly that might be inside. Dry them well and then thread them on to a string or push onto a thin skewer. These are hung from a tree in full sun (think scorching, drying Greek sunlight) for a couple of days, covered with thin netting. Flies, bees and wasps (etc) will just love this sweet fruit.
Then take the strings out of the direct sunlight and leave them in the shade for about a week. They should be like dried leather by then and hopefully will keep for a few months without going mouldy. They do tend to be rather hard. You can always soak them in hot water before eating to make them softer and chewable. The best greek dried figs are from the city of Kalamata, same place as those big black olives.
Fig trees sprout up everywhere. I picked some wild figs once meaning to make them into preserves but in the end found the recipe too complicated. Picking the figs was a nightmare. A white sticky substance oozes from the fig as you remove it from the tree and it makes your hands itchy and prickly.
Nb: 1 week after I wrote this we were given our first bag of figs . We have eaten more than we should. Now I have more in the fridge. Let the jam, jelly, chutney making beginning.
Wild capers also grow everywhere. This one is cascading down another neighbour's wall. The capers are small and tender just now and great for pickling. But the caper has long thorns and it is one helluva job to pick enough to make it worth your while. On the island of Angistri they salt the tender caper leaves and add them to the greek salad. They are delicious.
Capers are part of the mediterranean cuisine. Here they are normally used in salads but in Italy they are used for pasta sauces and meat dishes. They are one of the ingredients in tartar sauce. In biblical times they were thought to be an aphrodisiac. Now you know all about the caper. But if you don't have capers (kapari in greek) growing near you then maybe you have some nasturtiums in your garden. You can eat the leaves and flowers in salad or pickle the young buds just like the caper.
The poor walnut tree is losing all its leaves and the few walnuts it had this year are shrivelling up and falling. At this time of the year the tree should be covered in green leaves providing a cool area of shade.
Here are the walnuts. The two brown ones are from the supermarket. You can see how small and puny is the green one from our tree. Inside the green casing is the brown nut and inside the hard nut case is the walnut that we eat.
If you can get hold of half a dozen green walnuts fresh from the tree you could think about making walnut liqueur.
In a big glass jar with a tight fitting top..
700 ml of ouzo (you could use any alcohol, brandy or vodka would do just as well) . The liqueur will not taste of ouzo.
6 green walnuts
2 cups of sugar
1 cinnamon stick
Put the ouzo and the sugar into the jar and give it a good stir to dissolve the sugar. Add the cloves and the cinnamon and then the 6 green walnuts. Screw on the top and leave 2 months.
Strain and drink.
The walnuts will go black. Don't worry about that. But I did open up the jar now and again and push the walnuts down so they got pickled all over in the alcohol. The original recipe called for 3 cups of sugar but I thought it was far too sweet.