Fruits of Longing

Calimyrna and Black Mission Figs

I love coming back home. Apart from my family being here, the weather is better (at least in summer), the landscape more beautiful, there are always plenty of hungry mouths to feed and a stack of new cookbooks waiting to inspire me. This trip has been even more pleasurable than usual thanks to my expanding network of foodblogging friends, wonderful people who have taken the time to share a delicious meal and some lively conversation with me. I reconnected with the über-talented Molly and was suitably charmed by her man Brandon over a leisurely dinner of crabcakes and mixed pickles; I had the honor of sharing my first Tom Douglas meal with the gracious and brilliant Heather (who is, as far as I know, the food-blogosphere’s only former news anchor and documentary filmmaker), and I even managed to squeeze a bayside lunch with with the lovely Tea who by coincidence was in the Seattle area visiting family at the same time as me. As great as all these homecoming treats have been, however, I have to admit that the highlight of the trip so far as been none of these. With all due respect and apologies to bloggers and family alike, the truth of the matter is that nothing – and I really mean nothing – on this trip can top the fruit.

Scotland has many things going for it: kilts, for one thing, whisky for another, and let’s not forget haggis, but one thing I have a very hard time living without is really good fruit. Of course there are supermarkets that carry offerings as varied as anywhere else – peaches from Italy, plums from France, cherries from Turkey – but it only takes a closer look for the painful differences to emerge. Most things are heavily packaged, transported from far, far away and sold criminally under-ripe. Organic pickings are slim. Things don’t vary too much with the seasons, either; strawberries, for example, are always on the shelves, sharing space with rock-hard nectarines and blueberries from Antarctica that cost half a month’s rent. Other things I used to consider staples are simply unavailable (for example, a six-month old quest to track down organic red grapes has proven fruitless, if you’ll excuse the pun). And even the one bastion of hope, the weekly Edinburgh farmer’s market, is pretty paltry, with its two or three produce stands and a commitment to only sell what is farmed locally, which with this being Scotland means three seasons of root vegetables and a few lettuce leaves and raspberries in summer.

But then I come home to Washington, to the height of the Northwest harvest. Instead of plastic-entombed fruit-facsimiles there are mountains of fuzzy yellow peaches and blushing Rainier cherries; hand-picked buckets of gigantic inky blackberries still warm from the sun, and crates of the sweetest, most fragrant white nectarines I have ever tasted. My first trip to the market is like that scene in The Wizard of Oz, when suddenly everything changes from black and white to Technicolor. I’m intoxicated by the colors, the perfumes, the sheer abundance; I wander the aisles in a kind of trance, frequently stopping to sniff, caress or simply stare. As you can imagine, I get some funny looks.

And then of course there’s the cooking, which thanks to such produce is almost effortless. I see things, such as these figs, and before I even have them in my basket I know what I want to do with them. Some goat cheese for tang, some cream for richness, some honey for sweetness, and a short nap in a hot oven to caramelize and concentrate the flavors; this is the kind of cooking I dream about all year. The Northwest may never be able to compete with Scotland in the whisky and male-attire departments, but all this exquisite fruit is exerting a pretty strong tractor beam on my poor expat soul. And as much as I love my family, I suspect that if I am ever going to relocate back here for good, the quality of market offerings will have more than a little to do with it.

Fig and Goat Cheese Clafoutis

Fig and Goat Cheese Clafoutis

Serves: 6
Notes: Equal parts custard, cheesecake and pancake, this clafoutis is not terribly traditional, but it is really good. Serve it in generous wedges, lukewarm or at room temperature, with something fresh and tangy as counterpoint – some lightly-sweetened crème fraîche or greek yogurt, a scoop of vanilla frozen yogurt or perhaps some homemade buttermilk ice cream

5 oz (150g) mild goat cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup (110g) sugar, plus extra for dipping figs
4 large eggs
3 tablespoons honey
3/4 cup (180ml) heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup (70g) flour
1 lb (500g) figs, any variety

powdered/icing sugar, for dusting 

Preheat the oven to 350F/175C. Put the goat cheese and sugar in a medium bowl and whisk until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, incorporating each one before adding the next. Whisk in the honey and cream. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add them too. Whisk in the flour just until no lumps remain. At this point the batter can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours (and indeed, some people say it improves with age).

Halve the figs lengthwise. Grease a shallow baking dish or cast-iron skillet (approx 10in/25cm diameter) with butter and pour in the batter. Pour some sugar into a shallow bowl and dip the figs, cut-side down, into the sugar. Arrange them, cut-side up, in the batter.

Bake until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30-40 minutes (this will depend on how large your baking dish is). Allow to cool for at least 20 minutes before serving.


40 thoughts on “Fruits of Longing

  1. Very nice — spending time with friends, family, the Washington food market, and best of all your Fig and Goat Cheese Clafoutis!Paz

  2. Ah, yes. Summer in Seattle is brilliant. Your fig photos defy words they are so beautiful. Not sure if you are in town for a while, but feel free to give me a shout if you’d like to meet up with any other bloggers is Seattle! It would be fun to chat!

  3. It’s funny, a lot of Europeans think all the food in America is garbage (or everyone eats only fast food). When I brought a French friend to the farmer’s market in San Francisco, his eyes almost fell out of his head when he saw the quality and variety of what was available. Glad you’re enjoying your trip! Make sure to get French Fries at the Baguette Box, and smoked-salt caramels from Fran’s chocolates…they ain’t haggis, but somehow I don’t think that will be a problem for you.

  4. This clafoutis looks divine, Melissa, I will definitely make it very soon! I partially agree with your rant about the availability of fruit here in Edinburgh, though I mainly miss various wild berries (Scottish raspberries are great though, and some of the apples available at the farmer’s market). Coming from Estonia, I don’t expect much from ‘exotic’ fruit:)Enjoy the familiar bounty back home! PS Those smoked-salt caramels from Fran’s Chocolates that David mentions are amazing (wink, wink)

  5. Spectacular fig pictures! Our fig trees are loaded this year, so I’m waiting anxiously to be able to try this recipe out.

  6. Lovely post – and gorgeous pictures! I live in SF, and one forgets how easy it is to take fresh, available produce for granted! Although it would be hard not to be blown away by those perfect figs in any locale…

  7. Summer fruit in Seattle is extraordinary. I could live on figs, cherries and doughnut peaches! (And have been known to.)

  8. WHAT a beautiful clafoutis, ma cherie! I just made a rhubarb version last night, myself – further proof that great minds think alike, eh? Next up: a pound of figs and some goat cheese…So wonderful to see you, my friend. We’re already looking forward to your next visit. xo

  9. I love your blog, the food the presentation and the freshness of it all :)I would like to link your site to my weblog if you don’t mind? Keep on Jossika

  10. Melissa, fantastic photos! And a fig/goat cheese clafoutis sounds so wonderful. Im glad you are enjoying some wonderful produce–I remember how dismal it was when I lived in the UK too–everything plastic wrapped or pre-cut.. Im sure its only going to be harder for you when you go back to Scotland. Either way, you seem to be enjoying it to the fullest–this recipe is fab!

  11. hi melissa, it’s always nice to know that i’m not the only one virtually reduced to tears of sheer joy when faced with beautiful fruit πŸ™‚ sounds like you’re having a lovely time getting re-acquainted with both family and produce back home. i well remember your other exquisite figgy post (the zuni chicken recipe), and this GORGEOUS clafoutis more than deserves a place in the traveler’s lunchbox hall of fig fame πŸ˜‰

  12. Oh this is just beautiful! I’m so envious.The first time I tasted a fresh fig-I was just bowled over. Here in PA we cannot compete with the stone fruits and figs and citrus of the Pacific Northwest-though the climate would be right for a lot of the stone fruit, Most of our fruit is imported from CA or Mexico, and not much better than what you’d find in Scotland, unless you know someone with a tree.In the fall we do have a dynamite variety of locally grown apples, though.An astonishing number of Italian -Americans grow fig trees in this inhospitable climate..they dig out one side, topple them over, and cover them with dirt every winter..then dig them out again. An elderly couple on my street has 3 fig trees, covered with lovely fruits.. When they are out working their little mini-farm, and I walk by,I always wave at them and say hello hopefully. I’m trying to figure out how to make friends with them-as I don’t speak Italian, and their English is minimal!I’m sure they think I’m a huge dork.

  13. Between this post and your post about the fruit butters, I am falling to the ground and weeping here. Melissa, these are so beautiful. If I could, I would send you the organic red grapes that show up at my farmer’s market for, like, six minutes a year. They are truly something wholly other. πŸ™‚

  14. Hi Melissa!fig season just started here in Israel too!and what better way to celebrate maya & shelly mangos, ripe green and purple figs (among other gorgeous produce) than serve these fruits nearly ice-cold, sliced fresh, raw, straight from the fridge.I have a recipe from the new "Al Hashulchan", the new August issue dedicated entirely to summer fruits, which is fig and figling (that german fig liquer, how is it spelled?) granita served inside fresh figs. However, I’d opt for cactus fruit served on phyllo and mascarpone cream. topped with reasberry sauce. How drop-dead gorgeous is that?By the way, this belongs to the mango post all those months ago, but last week I made the frozen yogurt you suggested, and it’s *to die for*!!!!I tried doing the same with frozen raspberries, and added triple or four times as much sugar than I would for mango, just to make it palatable. However my brother who loves sour things, came home from the army and finished the ice cream off. Now I wonder whether I can make red currant sorbet (frozen berries, we don’t have them here fresh).

  15. Ooh… You’ve reminded me of how much I wish I was back home in Oregon about now! I’ve been longing for Pacific Northwest food for, well, about seven years now–hopefully I’ll make it back sooner than later, and at the right time of year!

  16. Ah Melissa.. yet another inspiring & mouth watering post. I saw your finished clafouti and felt so much – your photos do that. But the sentiment that comes to mind when I see that photo, and this may sound odd, is gratefulness. It "feels" warm and wholesome and good. And somehow that all translated itself into being grateful as I stare at the picture. Despite the craziness of the past 12 months, I do have much to be grateful for.Thank you for the kind comments in your post. I’m lucky to have connected with you.Best & Safe Travels,Heather

  17. I’ve fallen in love with clafoutis ever since I made my first one at the start of the summer! I’ve already tried making them with cherries, plums, grapes, and apricots. Your fig one is next on my list! Fresh figs are heaven sent. Lucky for me my neighbor has 6 fig trees in his backyard and generously shares the the fruit!

  18. Hi Paz – My family might object to the ‘best of all’ part, but just between us, that sounds about right! ;)Hi L – Thank you so much, and I’m sorry we weren’t able to connect, but we’ll just have to hold on to those rain checks for next time…Hi Kat – Thank you!Hi David – I know, I know, and I find myself beginning to believe that myself until I’m reminded every summer how great produce here actually is! And it seems to be getting better all the time. Let those Europeans think whatever they want, though – it means more for the rest of us!Hi Pille – Don’t worry, both smoked and gray salt caramels are safely tucked into my bag for the return trip (minus a few quality-control samples, naturally ;)…Merci, Ninnie! Hi Kim – Lucky, lucky you! I would trade all the clafoutis in the world for a fig tree of my own…Hi Anita – Thank you, and having lived in the Bay Area I know how easy it is to forget that not all parts of the planet are as blessed with wonderful produce. Now, of course, I want to shake everyone there who doesn’t appreciate it by the lapels! I’m sure you’re not one of them, though… ;)Hi May – Ooh, you’ve just reminded me that I haven’t had any doughnut peaches yet! Can’t miss out on those…Dearest Molly, ’tis the season for clafoutis! Rhubarb is a great idea – I hope you’ll be sharing the recipe πŸ™‚ And I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed our evening – where do the hours go? I’m counting the days until the next one!Why thank you, Jossika!Michele, my dear, somehow I knew the figs and goat cheese would appeal to you! And yes, I think we’re going to have to arrange a weekly fruit delivery from Paris after I get back if I’m to survive. The only problem is what I can send in return: haggis? oatmeal? Irn Bru??J, it’s funny how this website has uncovered passions I never knew existed – I never considered myself a fig-o-phile before, but looking at the evidence I suspect there’s no way to deny it now! And yes, it seems we have more than a little in common when it comes to fruit-worship. In fact, sometimes your gorgeous posts drive me to such fruit envy that I can barely see straight…Hi Lindy – you must find a way to befriend those neighbors! I’m sure they have far too many figs and would welcome a chance to give some away. A little language shouldn’t get in the way of a fig-based friendship (though of course I understand – I don’t know what I’d do in your situation!). I’ll have my fingers crossed for you…Matt, I agree – the combination may be getting a little clichΓ©d, but is there really anything better? ;)Hi Keiko – Thank you :)Hi Pamela – Thank you too!Hi Bakerina – Thank you kindly, my dear, and if only I could take you up on that grape offer! In fact I’m seriously tempted to fill a carry-on with fruit for the return trip, but somehow I don’t think that will go over too well with customs…Hi Malka – From how it sounds, Israel might just give the Northwest a run for its money when it comes to fruit! πŸ˜‰ I love the idea of the fig sorbet inside a fresh fig, and of course I’m thrilled you’ve finally tried the mango frozen yogurt – I can’t get enough of it!Hi Austin – I can’t believe you’ve been away that long! I don’t think I could manage – I need my yearly Northwest fix, preferably when everything is ripe and juicy and the days are long and warm. I hope you’re able to come back soon.Heather, my dear, it was *so* wonderful to meet you, and thank you for your kind words about the post. I am actively looking forward to the next chance to sit down to a great meal and a long chat with you (and hopefully Hanson next time!), and in the meantime I hope you’re able to finally enjoy some rest and relaxation and all the fabulous things Seattle has to offer!!Hi Jeff – I’ve had plenty of insipid clafoutis in my time as well, unfortunately. I wonder why? I do hope this one changes your opinion!Hi Amanda – I had no idea, so thanks for the heads-up!Hi Mary – Oh, I am envious! I was just down at my dad’s house in Oregon and tasted some figs straight off his neighbor’s tree – I don’t think I have *ever* tasted fruit so sweet! Ripe market figs are good, but now I’m trying to figure out a way to take a fig seedling back with me to Scotland… πŸ˜‰

  19. Your blog was one of a few that mede take the plunge and create mine. I love your recipes, stories and pics. Your trip to Jamaica and subsequent posts were awesome.

  20. We went to San Francisco for Easter, and WOW did we eat fantastic food! And I’m very picky quality-wise, as I grew up in tropical countries and am partly French, so I’m used to things actually tasting of something. Love your blog BTW, very inspiring and right up my alley.

  21. I completely understand how you feel about fresh produce! And it just so happens that figs are my absolute favorite item, the thing that I wait all year for. I did a bunch of fig recipes a few weeks ago on my blog. I have not seen a fig clafouti recipe anywhere, and it looks like something I would love. Thanks!

  22. ooh. figs. I just made a dish with figs this week. They have such a short growing life and I feel it is my duty to eat as many as possible.I just updated my links on my blog and added you.

  23. Hi Melissa,This has to be the most beautiful fig picture I have seen in a very long time! The green and the blue-purple are so bright! Sadly the figs I’ve seen at the market recently didn’t look as nice… but I’ll keep my eyes open!Enjoy your time with friends and family back home πŸ™‚

  24. Hi Helene – Thank you, I appreciate the kind words and I’m thrilled to have inspired you!Hi ASMO – Why thank you, and yes, without a doubt the SF area is incredibly blessed, food-wise, even by French standards! (And by Scottish standards as well, but that’s not very difficult…:)Hi Julie – You and me both! I certainly hope the fig clafoutis lives up to its promise – do you have a good source for figs?Hi Gabriella – It is easier to justify overindulging in something when there’s the excuse of a short season, isn’t it? :)Hi Nicky – Wow, coming from you that’s quite a compliment! Thank you, and I hope you find some better-looking figs – though in my experience the ugly ones are just as often the most delicious…

  25. Oooooh figs! I do love them… And the clafoutis sounds totally sublime. Your description of the Washington market makes me want to board a plane and head over there right now!

  26. This recipe sounds scrumptious! I’ve never done much with figs, but this certainly inspires me. And I do greatly envy the produce available in the Seattle area. Nonetheless, I will watch for some figs so I can make this recipe!

  27. My #1 pick for anybody has to be…I’m not sure, but here’s a few:1. Chocolate Couscous. A desert enjoyed by me in Scotland, worked a treat.2. Loganberry Soup. Berry soup? Strangely, it worked.3. Venison in chocolate sauce. A classic nowadays, served in many restaurants.

  28. Fresh figs…..never mind Scotland, I rarely see them in our Rhode Island farmers markets either! I’m always in awe of the wonderful foods brought home by a friend who visits her family in Seattle frequently. A stash of dried wild mushrooms is one of my prized possessions. Thanks for the clafouti recipe.

  29. hello, I was inspired by Pille’s posting on her website and made this yesterday – it was lovely. I used sour cream and a bit less sugar/honey and it was great. Thank you!

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