'When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born’
GK Chesterton (1874-1936) ‘The Donkey’
Lent is drawing to a close, although the weather doesn't feel like it. For Christians, today - Palm Sunday, marks the triumphal entrance into Jerusalem and the beginning of the week's events leading up to the crucifixion. My Grandmother always referred to pussy willow as ‘Palm’ and in the northern countries of Europe it’s used in Church services as a substitute for the palm branches laid out before Jesus and the donkey he was riding. The hedges are full of pussy willow at the moment and in Cornwall they are sprinkled with primroses like splodges of crème anglaise.
The origin of the connection between figs and Palm Sunday is because Jesus cursed the fig tree on his entrance into the city of Jerusalem - he was hungry and the tree had no fruit on it. St Mark says ‘when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet.'
Here’s what Flora Thompson tells us about Palm Sunday in ‘Lark Rise to Candleford’, the book she wrote about her young life in rural Oxfordshire.
‘Palm Sunday known locally as Fig Sunday was a minor hamlet festival. Sprays of soft gold and silver willow catkins called ‘palm’ in that part of the country, were brought indoors to decorate the houses and worn as buttonholes for churchgoing. The children of the house loved fetching in the palm …..better still they loved the old custom of eating figs on Palm Sunday. Some of the more expert cooks among the women would use these to make fig puddings for dinner.’
The fig puddings would have been suet ones boiled in a cloth – very heavy duty.
I try and keep to simple dishes for this blog and I really dislike the view fostered by some television chefs that the food cooked at home has to be the same as is served in restaurants; that’s both demeaning and demoralising for home cooks. This pudding in its three component version is a bit ‘cheffy’, but it’s delicious, pretty, and well worth the effort spent on it. You don’t need the yoghurt ice and the syrup, but the former cuts the sweetness of the tart and the second is a little conceit to tie the dish together. The tart on its own or with a spoonful of thick yoghurt is lovely in any case.
Make this one afternoon whilst pottering gently in the kitchen with some calm music on. This is seriously relaxing and creative cooking.
Fig tart with yoghurt ice cream and rosewater syrup
Nigel Slater’s yoghurt ice cream
1 500cl pot of full fat Greek yoghurt
4 tablespoons icing sugar.
I mixed these well together and put the mixture into my ice cream maker, (really useful – and bought second hand years ago- ebay often has them) Otherwise, freeze in a plastic container then whizz in your food processor and refreeze.
100g caster sugar
2 drops pink food colouring
Boil the water and sugar together until the sugar is dissolved and the liquid looks syrupy. Add the rosewater little by little, keep tasting until you have the flavour that suits you, but be sparing otherwise it tastes like Ponds Cold Cream, which is lovely, but not to eat. Now add a drop of colour and stir until pale pink – it helps to do this in a white bowl. Store the syrup in a sealed jar in the fridge until needed.
½ lb Shortcrust pastry rolled out thinly and put into an 8” flan tin
12 oz ready to eat figs, snip the little woody top off and chop coarsely
10fl oz water
2oz light brown sugar (or 2 tablespoons honey)
8 fl oz orange juice
4 oz unsalted butter melted and cooled
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp grated orange rind
6 oz walnuts coarsely chopped plus whole ones to decorate
Simmer the figs gently with the sugar, water and orange juice until soft and the liquid has been absorbed, it takes about 25 minutes on a low heat. Put into a food processor and blitz until finely chopped but not smooth. Add the orange rind, vanilla, butter, eggs and walnuts and pour into the pastry case. Put onto a baking tray and bake at 180c for about 15 minutes. Take out carefully and arrange the whole walnuts on top, return to oven for another 15-20 minutes, until it has puffed up a bit, so you know it's cooked through.
Cool and serve with a scoop of yoghurt ice and a little pool of rosewater syrup.
'Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet'