(WASHINGTON POST) - Soon, there will be an uptick in get-togethers, weekend company and visits with those who are far away. While I do not want to see decorated evergreens until after Thanksgiving, I am willing to do a little work now for a head start on the holidays.
So I am sharing with you my four-ingredient plan: Make fig brandy. It is a pretty and tasty gift that also creates brandied figs – a company-worthy accompaniment for cheese or ice cream.
I first made this brandy on a whim. I offered to pick figs from a friend’s tree while she was away. Once I got home, it was a shock to realise how many figs were in my basket. I made jam and chutney. I made a tart and a sauce for duck. I made compote and ice cream. And still, there were figs.
Finally, because I am part of the waste-not, want-not generation, I stuffed the figs into a dark glass jar, covered them with brandy and promptly forgot about them for six months.
That year, the early autumn fruit was boozy, strong and more than a little mushy.
When I served it with cheese, only a slim sliver was tolerable. The tipple, on the other hand, was syrupy and rich.
The following year, I fiddled. I added two cloves and an orange, plus a reminder on the calendar. That version was delicious, but tasted of citrus more than fig.
I tried again with fresh grassy thyme and a lemon (and a prompt on my smartphone) and found both brandy and fruit could swing from savoury to sweet more than any of the others. Most fruit-based infusions, such as Cherry Bounce, slivovitz and limoncello, need sugar or honey to effectively bring out the fruit’s flavour.
Figs are sweet enough on their own to stand up to a boozy bath. Brown Turkey, Black Mission and other fig varietals are suitable for the accompanying recipe. Look for firm, fresh fruit with no signs of bruising or mould.
Hands-on time takes but a few minutes. Pierce the figs with the tip of a sharp paring knife and the brandy will slowly flavour the fruit, but do not slice or allow them to split while packing them or you will create a murky brew. Fill the jar with as many figs as will fit, layering thin lemon slices and thyme sprigs among them. The brandy does not have to be expensive.
Figs are heady and strong-flavoured and will mellow even the roughest plonk. Nor is a special jar required – any glass food storage container with a tight-fitting lid will work.
After a month, funnel the brandy into gift bottles and pair it with a wedge of sharp cheese for your weekend hosts. Stash the boozy figs in the refrigerator and invite the neighbours for dessert. Spoon slivers of boozy figs over ice cream. That will look fancy.
You might just find it difficult to part with your fig brandy and brandied figs. Fortunately, there will still be time to make another batch.
Fig Brandy and Brandied Figs
When fresh figs are ripe and rich with honeyed flavour, spend just a few minutes in the kitchen to prepare for the holiday season ahead. Use inexpensive brandy. After a month, the liquid transforms to a syrupy, sweet sip, sensational with a cookie or a bit of cheese. There is a bonus too: The figs will be infused with the citrusy, herbal brandy, ready to slice thin and serve over ice cream or match slim wedges with creamy blue cheese.
The figs in brandy need to sit for at least 30 days in a dark cupboard. The fig brandy can be stored at room temperature for up to a year; the brandied
figs can be refrigerated for up to a month.
9 to 12 plump, ripe fresh figs (stems trimmed), preferably organic
1 lemon, seeded and thinly sliced, preferably organic
3 fresh thyme sprigs
1½ to 2 cups brandy
1. Pierce each of the figs four or five times with a sharp knife. Place the figs in the jar, alternately layering in the lemon slices and thyme. Pack firmly and fill the jar, being careful not to split open any of the figs - sliced or broken fruit will make the brandy murky.
2. Pour the brandy over the figs to fill the jar. Seal and place the jar in a dark cupboard and make a note on the calendar. The fig brandy will be ready in 30 days.
3. Pour the brandy through a fine-mesh strainer into a jar or gift bottle. Serve chilled in small glasses.
4. Discard the lemon slices and thyme. Store the brandied figs in a covered container in the refrigerator.