Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Fig Sorbet for Cato

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.


Lee said...

Jane, what are you doing to me!! I'm reading this very late at night & your post is making me long for some delicious sorbet right now. You'll be the ruin of me (or at least my waistline) :) Seriously though, a truly delicious post. Lee

Laura said...

I am mightily impressed by a great many things in this post...your grasp of history, your devotion to Marcella Hazan (a trait that I share), but most impressive is that you actually peeled enough figs to make a sorbet! Is there a trick to it to make it easier than I'm envisioning the whole exercise to be?

Jacqueline @ HOME said...

Dear Jane,
Your fig sorbet's, whichever one, look delicious. I think that I'll have a go. I would probably favour the peeled one but, I would still like the unpeeled one as well !!!!
Interesting history on the fig. We all know what else they represent as well, don't we ? Sorry to lower the tone !!!!

Unknown said...

Your sorbet looks sooo delicious! I am loving figs at the moment too. I have been making jam drop biscuits lately using fig jam in the middle, so yummy. Jx

Jane said...

Laura - figs are very easy to peel which is surprising the skin comes off really cleanly - and I only made small amounts, 250 g for each batch and just reduced the suger, milk and water down.

Jackie - don't worry I was thinking of lowering the tone myself by mentioning that Other Thing they represent, but I knew people could do that themselves !! xoxo

Tina said...

Hi Jane. This fig sorbet looks divine, peeled or unpeeled!!! Thanks also for the history lesson, it sparked a really interesting conversation between my hubby and I (not that our conversations aren't ususally interesting!!). Hope you are having a wonderful Wednesday ~ Tina x

Unknown said...

Interesting...never had this for dessert. Fresh figs aren't available easily and if they are, they cost a lot..so we are only getting to eat them dry here :)

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