We’re entering those last languid days of late summer. The first full-blown storms that signal the passing of summer proper are no doubt just around the corner. Autumn is making itself felt on car windscreens which are now heavy with humidity early morning.
But, the real signs of the seasons changing is seen in the ebb and flow of the various fruits are appearing on our veggie vans and stalls – figs, prickly pears and the small bambinella pears that seem almost unique to Malta and are now making a small, but significant presence on the shelves of renowed UK retailer Marks & Spencer. Plums of all hues are on sale in abundance. And our summer staple, tomatoes, are so plentiful right now and at their cheapest that it’s shame no one has time any more to make homemade sun-dried tomatoes or bottle them.
Surprisingly, late summer in Malta does yield quite a harvest despite the intense heat and drought of summer months having withered away most natural vegetation. Figs are my favourite. But their season is short. Figs have a habit of cropping all at once, in a glut, and then are soon overripe, oozing stickiness, messing yards and pavements and making an ideal snack for wasps. So, for now at least, its figs for breakfast, dessert and a daytime snack anytime.
I can’t stand the dried variety that appear at San Martin feast day (around mid November) and which have their heyday at Christmas. These dried affairs are far too full of nasty, gritty seeds and far too sweet and chewy. But fresh, firm, ripe-enough figs right now are a Maltese treat to behold. Here’s how…
- with honey and Greek-style yoghurt
- bake them with Marsala;
- make a compote of them;
- eat them with a cheese – rikotta perhaps and some more honey;
- simply eat them fresh;
- if you’re up to it in this heat, try making some fig jam, to use all winter long on strong cheese and eat with a hunk of bread.
The very best thing about figs is that you’ll find them for free! Everywhere in the Maltese countryside, and urban landscape as well, the hardy fig is found. Where all else fails to grow, the silver barked, large-leafed fig will sprout. At Fawwara, one is perched precariously – its roots seem to be in little more than a crack in the cliff. But the fig has a vast root system that can sniff out water anywhere (so beware planting it in a small garden or on your house wall!).
Share your fig recipes with us – getting the pips stuck in your teeth scraping the skin clean doesn’t count!