We once had a kind neighbor who planted a fig tree on the side of their house. They were great cooks. They would share homemade pita bread, and they gave Dad a large cooler of lobsters when they returned from a trip to Maine. When we first moved into our house, they shared tips on landscaping our front yard. After-school, my sister and I would accidentally leave our house keys at home, and we would stay at their house until our parents came home. The smell of their evening dinner was enticing.
They were generous. And, they broke our hearts when they moved away without telling anyone where they were going. No one in the neighborhood had any problems or disagreements with them. We woke up one morning to discover they had disappeared. All that was left was their fig tree and a beautiful yard.
Another neighbor moved in and chopped down the tree. We knew in our hearts they were wrong, but it’s their property. It was time to make new memories with them. However, they kept to themselves, and we respected their space. When they asked for help, my parents were more than happy to provide them with advice. Over the years, we watched their son grow up and today Dad watches their dog when they go away on vacation.
When the fig tree was still in our former neighbor’s yard, my sister and I never picked their figs. We didn’t like them as kids. Figs are an acquired taste for me, and I love them today to the point of addiction. They’re drizzled with honey, smeared with blue cheese, wrapped in prosciutto, or placed on top of the sharpest white cheddar.
When deciding to bake with figs, I wanted to avoid the fig-newton style cookie — a cookie made wrong in the United States (I heard they’re made better around the world). Not wanting a savory dish or a dessert, a cornmeal muffin was perfect with fig honey jam swirled in. A few toasted walnuts are thrown in for a healthy crunch.
If I wanted, I easily could ask my parents for our former neighbor’s names and say hello. I would love to learn how they made their homemade pita bread and the secret to their tomato sauces that my sister and I would smell as we waited for our parents to come home. And, share with them this Honey Fig Cornmeal Muffin recipe over coffee. In this day of the information being easily accessible, they could be easily found. However, we respect their space and remember them well.
Honey Fig Cornmeal Muffins
Note: Recipe adapted from Food and Wine magazine.
- About 5 oz. of figs (6 to 7 small figs); cleaned, ends trimmed and roughly chopped
- ¼ c. honey
- 1 tbsp. orange juice
- 2 pinches of sea salt
- The zest and juice of half a lemon
- ¼ c. chopped walnuts; toasted
- 1 c. flour
- 1 c. cornmeal
- 1/3 cup coconut sugar
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
- 1-1/4 c. buttermilk
- 1/4 c. coconut or olive oil; a little more for greasing a muffin tin
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- Preheat oven to 400° F. Grease a 12-tin muffin pan.
- Place chopped figs, honey, orange juice and one pinch of sea salt in a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat. Frequently stir to reduce liquid to a syrupy consistency and to break down the figs for about 15 minutes. As the liquid thickens (about 8 minutes), reduce temperature to medium-low to continue breaking down the figs. Mix in the lemon zest. Remove pan from the stove and cover. Set aside.
- Combine nuts and dry ingredients in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, whisk lemon juice, buttermilk, oil, egg and vanilla. Fold the liquid into the dry ingredients, and mix until all the ingredients are just thoroughly incorporated. Do not over mix.
- Fold in the fig-honey. Use a rubber spatula and scrape from the bottom of the bowl no more than four times.
- Fill each compartment of the greased muffin tin two-thirds full of batter. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until a fork/toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Serve warm.
One thought on “The Neighbor with the Fig Tree”
I enjoyed this post, Sanura, because I also have very fond memories of fig trees from childhood. As an adult living in Carroll Gardens some years ago, the local laundromat owner and I coveted the figs on the tree of her neighbor. We asked him if we could have them, and he said, sure–he didn’t like them or know what to do with them. We went crazy picking that tree. Today, though, I think the pleasures of figs are better known. Thanks for the recipe–I’ll give it a try if I manage not to eat all the figs fresh! By the way, I once had figs stuffed with a little bit of mascarpone and wrapped in prosciutto. Fantastic way to have them too.
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