The unique way in which Cretans make use of every single edible thing available to them, never ceases to impress. Coupled with the Cretan adage, that figs, in particular, should always be “scrumped”, makes this particular spoon dessert so much more special.
This recipe uses the figs which appear in Spring. They often appear on the male or uncultivated trees in great numbers and don`t develop into edible fruit, but play a part in the germination of the true fruit which will appear later on in the Summer.
They should be harvested whilst still firm to touch. If they are too spongy when you depress your finger into the fruit, then discard.
30/40 figs unblemished and evenly green, firm to the touch
1/2 teaspoon blue stone (γαλαζόπετρα) (optional) *
1 kilo sugar
3 vanilla capsules
1/2 teaspoon citric acid
3 glasses of water
Juice from half a lemon
Trim off the brown stalk, leaving as much green stump as possible. Wash lightly and throw into a pan with plenty of water, bring to the boil. Boil for 10 minutes and strain. Add fresh water and repeat this procedure once more, straining afterwards.
* Optional – In another utensil, preferably a ceramic pot if you have one, dissolve the blue stone in 1 1/2 litres of cold water. Throw in the strained figs and leave for 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from the mixture and rinse extremely well.*
Add fresh water to the pan with the figs and bring to the boil, this time, leave them until they are thoroughly cooked. You can tell by pricking with a fork, if they fall from the fork, then they`re ready.
Strain and throw the figs into a bowl with cold water. Leave for 8 or 9 hours, preferably overnight.
The next day, repeat the boiling procedure, discarding the water. Place a small plate into the freezer for the syrup set check.
Figs are like little sponges and retain water inside. Prick the stalk end with a toothpick and squeeze the water out ever so gently, be careful or the fruit will tear. Leave on kitchen roll to soak the excess water up.
In a clean pan, put the water and stir in the sugar to dissolve. Add the citric acid and bring to the boil for 10 minutes. Add the figs and continue boiling till you have a set, removing the pan from the heat each time you test.
Figs will continue to release water over the next 24 hours, which will water down your syrup again, so remove from the hot plate and leave to one side overnight.
The next day, re-boil, add the vanilla and continue boiling till you have a set. If your figs are in danger of disintegrating, remove with a slotted spoon and continue boiling, returning them for a final gallop in the syrup when it is ready.
Jar up in sterilized jars.
*Blue stone, or copper sulphate (γαλαζόπετρα) is used religiously in Crete, not just in this recipe, but as pest and disease control on plants, vegetables and trees. Many Cretan housewives I have spoken to, agree that the use of copper sulphate is purely to enhance the colour of the figs. They all consider it a vital step in the procedure, at the same time, insisting that the quantity used in this spoon sweet is more innocent than some other chemicals that bought fruit and vegetables are often sprayed with. I leave it up to you to decide whether to use it or not!*
The boiling, straining and replenishing with fresh water is to reduce the bitterness of the fruit. It is good to test the finished, de-bittered fruit before you syrup them, to make sure they`re still not too bitter.
The figs can be served with plain yogurt, or on their own. Because of their wonderful blue/green colour, they make a super decoration to cakes and trifles, or wherever else you fancy trying them.