I mentioned in my peach sorbet post that I would try fig sorbet, also a recipe of Marcella Hazan.
What fascinated me most about her recipe is that she gives two variations: one where the figs are peeled and one where the figs are unpeeled. She says the unpeeled fig sorbet has a 'keener' taste whilst the taste of the peeled fig sorbet was more subtle.
I was interested in the taste difference, it's true.
But mostly I think I was interested in the colour difference. I mean what colour would fig sorbet, peeled and unpeeled, actually be? Pistachio green? Pale cream? Pinky blush? I had to know.
Before we get there, here are some lovely fig paintings, the first by Charlie Baird
The next is by Luis Melendez which you can find in the Louvre:
And this delicate depiction by Craig Stephens:
Here are the two sorbets. As you can see the peel makes a marked difference. It makes the sorbet much stronger, and much more textured. I do prefer the peeled, I think. I have decided this after extensive comparative taste tests. My son wouldn't even try the unpeeled one. I guess brownish greenish icecream is not everyone's cup of tea.
(peeled fig sorbet)
(unpeeled fig sorbet)
And what, you may ask, does Cato have to do with all this?
Figs are ancient, and records indicate they were consumed by Sumerians as long ago as 2500 BC. And they have always been a symbol of prosperity and wealth.
As it happened, Marcus Cato (the Elder) was most concerned about the threat from Carthage, in Libya, to Rome.
The story is told that to illustrate the danger, he, in making a speech to the Senate, contrived to pluck an 'African' fig, plump and ripe, from the folds of his toga which he said was obtained in Carthage just a day or so ago. When the Senators gathered around to admire it and its ripeness, Cato remarked that Carthage was only three days sail from Rome and hence 'must be destroyed' (from Plutarch's Lives).
This occurred in approximately 152 or 149 BC depending on which account you believe. And some time after this 'stunt' (as it was suspected that the fig in fact emanated from Cato's orchards outside Roma) the Third Punic War commenced, and Carthage was indeed destroyed. For more on the interesting debate about the timing of this, see here. (Yes it's true, a whole blog devoted to the Third Punic War. Well why not.)
I have always rather wanted to meet Cato (the Elder, and indeed his grandson the Younger, depicted sourly in the second of Robert Harris's amazing trilogy about Cicero).
So this fig sorbet is for you, the two Catos.