In turning distractedly to look at the canal, I can see it.
I’ve passed through here many times before, and every time I stop to look at that beautiful branch of the fig tree that sticks out from some kind of secret garden and stretches over the canal.
These are the little beauties of Venice that, more than any other, make my heart ache. There is too much beauty around here. How can everything be so poetic? How can a place be so many things at once?
Venice is like a small theatre where even the simple things, such as a fig branch, can find its own perfect harmony by being transformed into some unexpected wonder. Not everyone can really see. There are those who always look ahead without ever turning back or being distracted.
I’m always late because there is always something on my way that makes me wonder and that I need to see, and I don’t care if I’m late. I’m grateful for being able to see.
While I’m looking at you, little big Tree, I’m also thinking how unique you are, just like this place that is your home. At the end of the summer, I’ll be back to see you again, little big Tree. I’ll come back to see how you are doing.
Everything is so uncertain here. What you greet today, you never know if it will still be there tomorrow.
It’s the same with my 92-year-old granny. I don’t see her very often but when I do, I always say goodbye to her as if it could be the last time. Her body is slightly curve and she stretches towards me like these branches, tired and old, that are winning their space by reflecting themselves in the green water of the lagoon.
The warm air of September deceives me. It looks like summertime but you, dear little old Tree, remind me that Autumn is getting near. Do you see? I’m back to see you and thanks to you, I’ve remembered to look at the leaves in my garden. I’ve a fig tree too! And have picked lots of perfect small figs from it. I hadn’t imagined it’d bear so many this year. Just a few weeks ago, I didn’t noticed all these figs and I’d looked carefully around the leaves. It was a lovely surprise.
I know these long and strong branches so well because when I was a little girl I used to climb up them. In my garden there wasn’t any other tree so perfect for climbing and for sitting on it as this tree!
The last sunbeams are fading behind the vineyard but its smooth bark is still warm. September is always a very generous month and my little basket is not big enough to hold so many fruits. I’ll need to fill some old wooden boxes and also look for a longer ladder for reaching the top branches.
I came here to pick up the figs but I was distracted by some beautiful bunches of ripe grape and by the hazelnuts that have started falling from the trees.
I’ve always thought that having even just one fruit tree at the height of its fruit-bearing makes you rich. It’s incredible how many fruits it can give! Each year I forget about it and then I marvel at such excessive abundance. Take it easy my dear Tree!
I think I’ve already praised the wonders of vegetable growing when, this summer I went crazy about the yellow tomato plants. There were only four plants and yet, I could have filled up a tank!
In Veneto, figs are considered a kind of precious fruit. They can easily grow and easily go rotten at the first sign of humidity. Good figs need a dry climate with no rain and lots of sunshine. I remember having eaten the best ever in Tuscany. Their skin was green with slightly purple veining. They were neither white nor black and not even very large. More than fifteen years ago, after having realized how good that particular species of fig was, my father brought back home, from Tuscany, what is now a big fig tree in our garden.
I’ve never considered myself a patient person, but to be able to live at a slower pace and more according to the seasons has been useful in understanding how good it is to let myself be carried away in doing tasks that require a good amount of patience and time, like making jam, for example.
You should try to imagine me in my kitchen, listening to the sound of Twice by the Little Dragon while I’m stirring my winter’s supply of jam.
Jar after jar, it’s a real pleasure to stock up food for the winter months, as if I were a squirrel stocking up its acorns! Fig jam is one of those things for which it’s worth being patient. You should absolutely try it with some buckwheat crepes! With the addition of some caramelized figs… you will be gobsmacked!
Making fig jam is easy but I’d like to spend a few banal words that will make it denser and caramelized, perfect for the crepes.
First: you should use brown sugar. This isn’t good for every kind of jam, but for fig jam it’s perfect because the fruit caramelized differently compare to white one.
Second: you should make the jam a bit at time. Therefore, don’t fill very large pots to the brim but make a smaller quantity, enough to fill two or three jars at the most.
Third: cook slowly on a low heat for about one hour, ensuring that the fruit dries well. I assure you that by following these three steps, together with good quality figs – better if they are small and not too watery – you will have the best jam ever made.
One morning, as I was going down the wooden staircase in the bright daylight, I saw the silhouette of my mother standing in her kitchen. She’d arranged some irises into a beautiful old ceramic vase. The red chairs were around the old wooden table that she had finely laid – as only she can do – with a pale raw linen tablecloth and the light blue French dishes and, in the air, there was a new fragrance. She had her usual loving smile and that positive energy without which I wouldn’t be able to start the day.
Many years have passed since that morning but I’ve never forgotten the fragrance that was following my mother’s experienced movements around the stove.
She had just returned from France and she seemed to have taken the same charme of those French ladies who go to the shops carrying a large straw basket in their arms, and that wasn’t the only thing.
She had also brought back some of the flavors from her traveling and she had prepared one of the most famous Breton specialties: Galettes made with buckwheat flour. There she was, in all her splendor, eagerly turning the crepes. That morning saw the start of a new era: the crepes age had begun!
My list of crepes variations would make me look like Bubba talking about his shrimps to Forrest Gump and so I’ll avoid it, but this sweet version with the caramelized figs is really too much….Too much. Full stop. Too much, like the beauty of that fig branch.
- 1 egg
- 100ml milk
- 150ml water
- 70g plain flour
- 70g buckwheat flour
- 1 pinch of salt
- 8/10 fresh figs
- 150g granulated sugar
- 50g butter
- 2 tbsp water
- 1kg fresh figs
- 200g brown sugar
- In a large bowl mix the two flours together with 2 pinches of salt.
- Add some of the milk and water a bit at a time. Stir well to remove any lumps.
- Add to the mixture a whole egg. Stir well to combine the mixture that should be fluid but not too fluid.
- Cover the mixture with cling film and let it stand for at least one hour in the fridge. Remove it from the fridge and stir it again.
- Grease a pan for crepes with some butter and put it on high heat. Pour a large spoonful of the mixture into the middle of the pan. Tilt the pan so that the mixture coats the surface evenly.
- Cook for about a minute till the crepe loosens from the pan, flip it over and cook the other side till it becomes slightly brown.
- Continue in the same way with the rest of the mixture, and grease the pan with a little butter between one crepe and another.
- Wash and gently wipe the figs dry then cut in half. Don't peel them.
- Heat a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Spread the sugar evenly into the pan and cook until the sugar is melted and it is golden brown, then leave to simmer.
- Add the butter stirring with a wooden spoon. Remove from the heat and add 2 tbsp of water stirring very well to keep the caramel fluid.
- Place the figs with the half upside up into the caramel sauce. Put back over low heat for 10 minutes. Baste the top of the figs with the caramel, and leave to cool in the pan.
- Wash and wipe dry the figs. Take off the tip and cut into 4 wedges. Then, put them into a non-stick saucepan.
- Cook over low heat for about 10/15 minutes until the figs are soft.
- Add the sugar and simmer for about 50 minutes stirring occasionally until thickened.
- Pour the hot jam into the sterilized jars, then put the lid on and close well, and turn the jars upside down.
- Cover the jars with a blanket so that they will cool down slowly and will be vacuum-sealed.