One Fig, Two Fig…

Earlier this week I promised you a story.

My adventures to find fresh figs began when we moved to Vermont almost a month ago. Figs are in season from Summer to Fall and as we were preparing for our move, I was buying fewer fresh and perishable foods and tried to go through as much of the pantry as possible. I figured Vermont was a food savvy place and I would have no trouble finding figs for one of my favorite Fall meat dishes (to be featured soon!).

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Moving day came and went, we unloaded all but the boxes of books, and though I searched for them on every trip to the co-op and grocery store, I could not find a fresh fig. Starfruit, kiwis, and tamarind roots were all easily available, but the only figs in sight were the dried varieties bathed in chemicals to preserve them.

The end of the season was fast approaching and I was beginning to panic. I spoke with the head of produce ordering at our co-op, and he said that figs have not sold well in the past, so they are rarely stocked. He could, however, make a special order for me if I was willing to buy in bulk. Twelve pints, in bulk. That’s about six pounds of figs I either have to use or loose. I was desperate. I went for it.

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The day I walked out of the co-op with a flat of fresh Black Mission figs, I knew I needed a long-term solution if I wanted these to last me until Thanksgiving. I decided to freeze them, but I had to play my cards right if I didn’t want a mushy mess when I defrosted them. Enter: chemistry background.

In my time working in a biochemistry lab, I worked a lot with bacteria stocks. These bacteria often carried precious DNA material and we needed to keep them alive long term. To do so, we would flash freeze them in a bath of dry ice and ethanol. The alcohol has an extremely low freezing point and would stay a liquid at -100F and freeze the cells within seconds. The faster the freeze, the smaller the ice crystals that form. When we thawed the little guys out, they were almost as good as new. This was the method I was shooting for with my figs. If I could freeze them fast enough, I would avoid large, jagged ice crystals tearing their figgy flesh and turning them to mush.

Dry ice was almost as hard to find as a Target in the state of Vermont. Grocery stores did not carry it, FedEx and UPS were not allowed to ship it. I even called Ben and Jerry’s, only to be informed that although they use it for making and shipping ice cream, they were not allowed to sell it directly to customers. After 45 minutes of Google searches and calls, I found one shipping company in Burlington that sold it. Two hours after I set off, I returned home armed with seven pounds of dry ice and a cheap bottle of 100 proof vodka.

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I only froze the figs that were ripe and ready to go, about half of the flat. What was left over, I sorted into into three separate bowls based on relative ripeness, so I could use them in stages as the ripened. About five minutes later, the ripe figs were frozen and stored away and I began to plot recipes for the ones that would be ripe in only a day or two. Recipes like these:

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Figgy Dutch Baby

The morning started out with the following conversation:

Beth: I want to make a Dutch baby

Anden: Um…do I get a say in this?

Beth: I mean, I guess we could just do regular pancakes?

Anden: Oh, thank God, you’re talking about food. 

I kid you not, I laughed for three minutes straight.

Perhaps this could use a bit of explanation. A Dutch baby is a German-style pancake that is part giant popover, part crepe. They’re usually made in a cast-iron pan because they hold heat extremely well and distribute it evenly. When cooked, the batter rises to phenomenal heights, then falls right back down. The resulting pancake is light and soft with delightfully crispy edges.

Dutch Babies can be served with just about anything, but I was craving some honeyed figs. Figs are incredibly sweet by themselves, so the acid of the lemon juice does a lot to brighten the flavor and round it out. If you have fresh rosemary, I would recommend using it here for it’s gorgeous aromatics. I only have dried on hand, so although the aroma is not as strong, it is still unmistakable and refreshing. To finish off the dish, I added some roasted pistachios for a bit of crunch and another dimension of flavor.

Dutch Baby Ingredients:

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 milk, at room temperature

3 large eggs, at room temperature

3 tbsp butter

Honeyed Fig Topping:

1/3 cup local honey

1 tbsp lemon juice (1/2 lemon)

1 tsp dried rosemary

10 figs, de-stemmed and sliced in half

Optional (but highly recommended!):

1/4 cup shelled pistachios, lightly toasted and crumbled in a food processor.

Begin by pre-heating the oven to 425 with an 12″ cast iron in the oven as it warms.

Mix together the flour, milk, and eggs and set aside. Once the oven has reached 425, remove the cast iron and melt the butter in the hot pan. Carefully pour the batter into the pan, and return to the oven. Bake for 25 minutes (no peeking!)

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To prepare the honeyed fig topping, whisk together the honey, lemon juice, and rosemary in a large, non-reactive saucepan (stainless steel works really well). Heat over med-high until the honey mixture begins to bubble, then place each of the figs, cut-side down, into the pan to caramelize.

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Let that bubble for about 3-5 minutes, or until the figs are soft when prodded with the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and set aside.

When your Dutch Baby is done, serve it in the cast iron and top with the honeyed figs and sprinkle with crush pistachios.

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This recipe would serve 3-4 people pretty comfortably, but Anden and I tackled the whole thing by ourselves and regret nothing.

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