The following will appear in this week’s issue of The Dolphin.
When it comes to romantic food, there’s little more legendary than the fig. The shape of the fruit is rather sexy, ballooning immodestly. Their color ranges from gentle yellow to deep purple, depending on the variety. Texturally speaking, their flesh is creamy and thick. And here’s something fun: Figs aren’t even really fruit – they’re inverted flowers. So it makes sense that they’re the stuff of steamy, bodice-ripping novels. They are full of lore, mystery and intrigue. Even the very trees they grow on are whimsical, intricate things with rambling roots and muscular arms. I’ve always half-believed that where there are fig trees, there are unicorns.
Although fresh figs are particularly decadent, there’s absolutely nothing ordinary about the readily-available dried variety. In fact, I have this recurring fantasy in which Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals feeds me dried figs on a chaise lounge, while Anderson Cooper stands at my side, fanning me with palm fronds. Did I just reveal too much? Ah, well, if you never put it out there, you’ll never get it back.
Figs appear most often on cheese platters, nestled in between pecans and brie. They look – and taste – great as a part of this presentation, but if you’ve ever eaten a whole fig, you understand that it’s difficult to do gracefully. I gnash them in half with my teeth and then, holding one portion cupped in my palm, suck the seeds and chewy interior from the other, pursing my lips and working my tongue around to retrieve the bits that have lodged themselves in my teeth. It sounds sort of sexy, but I assure you it’s not – I end up looking a bit like a gerbil.
Now, typically, I eat figs in the privacy of my own home, but last week, while on a fruit kick, I ended up getting figgy with it (hee hee), as I drove home from class. I was performing my ritualistic dance with the fig, drawing my cheeks inward when I stopped at a red light. The taste was so sweet, so rich, so decadent, that I closed my eyes for just a moment and clapped my hands together gleefully. Hooray for figs! At that point, my favorite song began playing on the radio, and my happiness meter just about exploded. I pumped my right arm up in the air triumphantly and popped the second half of the fig in my mouth. Hooray for life!
Upon opening my lids, I realized that not only was the man in the car next to me staring, he was laughing. Really, really hard. Well, what can I say? I do my part to entertain the masses.
The experience was silly, but it got me thinking. Maybe, I considered, I should find a more publicly suitable way to enjoy figs. They can be employed in a wide variety of dishes, from honey-sweetened desserts to savory meats, but I’d never, in all my years, come across a fig muffin. And why not? I wondered, already greasing a tin. I used my go-to muffin recipe, altering it slightly to better suit the occasion. The result was wonderfully reminiscent of Fig Newtons, the popular packaged cookie. The figs were the star players, of course, but they were nicely backed up by chewy raisins and a browned, crumbly crust. They made an otherwise ordinary breakfast extraordinary, exotic.
I put a bit of honey-drizzled muffin on my tongue and closed my eyes. I threw my hands up in the air and yes, I danced. I was in the privacy of my kitchen after all, and I was eating blissfully. Hooray for life.
Fig Mewfins (Makes 24)
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup whole milk
- ½ cup olive oil
- 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus 1 tbsp.
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 4 tsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp. sea salt
- 1 cup chopped dried figs
- ½ cup raisins
- ½ cup golden raisins
Preheat oven to 380 degrees, and grease 2 12-cup muffin tins. (Or, use paper liners.)
Place eggs in large bowl and break yolks with whisk. Stirring with wooden spoon, add milk and olive oil. Set aside.
In a second bowl, sift 3 cups flour, sugar and baking powder and salt together. Add dry ingredients to wet, and stir until just barely combined; the batter will be lumpy and that’s okay.
Toss dried fruit with 1 tbsp. flour, then add to batter, stirring once or twice to incorporate. Fill muffin tins 2/3 full (no more!), then bump the oven temperature up to 400. (Because oven temperatures cycle, starting the baking process at 400 degrees assures that the temperature will be hot enough to sufficiently fluff the muffin tops.) Cook for 22-25 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from tins at once.
Serve warm, with honey and marmalade.