Big fig love

If you’ve read my previous post on jams here then you may already know how much I love figs. No, seriously I really, really love them.  

And what’s not to love? Succulent, rich parcels of sweet and juicy flesh, figs symbolise the excesses, headiness and pleasures of summer.  I especially associate them with my childhood summer holidays in Portugal; grandma would have a huge bowl of them cooling in the fridge, delicious and refreshing in the heat. Invariably, I would eat them all – though not all in one sitting, not unless I wanted a very bad tummy ache and to spend the rest of the day in the bathroom.

Family members who had fig trees would be visited often. I have a memory of visiting a relative, I think a second cousin or someone related to my maternal side of the family and they had the biggest fig tree I’ve ever seen. My grandpa proceeded to ask if we could help them out with their abundance and we came back with a huge haul, picked fresh that day. Happy memories indeed. 

Nowadays I get my fig fix from my parents fig tree or one of hubby’s lovely colleagues whose fig tree goes into overdrive and for a while I start hassling him as soon as he’s through the front door, “Did you bring anything for me today?!” Like some kind of junkie needing their next hit!! Of course I could buy them in the shop, but the ones available are usually tiny, purple skinned ones that have flown thousands of miles from faraway hot lands and are never as good as the green skinned ones. Plus they cost an absolute fortune – I’ve seen them at £4 for four! – so it’s an addiction that needs to be kept in check. I guess because they’re so limited now I enjoy them even more. 

Not long ago, the last few drops of my absolute favourite perfume (Mark Jacobs Blush) ran out despite me nursing the bottle and only spritzing the teensiest amount on special occasions. It was my perfect scent. That beautiful jasmine combined with tuberose, freesia, honeysuckle and orange blossom. I always thought it smelled quite lily-ish on my skin with a lovely freshness. Light enough for day, but if I sprayed a little more liberally it was heady enough for night. It had been released eons ago and of course now discontinued. The search began for a perfect replacement.

Now, I’m realllllllllly funny (weird, not haha) about scents. I dislike it when people buy new perfumes for me that aren’t ones I already adore or have specifically asked for. Oh goodness, could I sound more ungrateful?! I don’t mean to, it’s just I find my sense of smell is super sensitive. Always has been. I can’t go to a petrol station unless all the car windows are wound up. I’ve experienced migraines and nausea at work when a boss decided to burn a rose scented candle. I can tell when someone is smoking cigarettes even if they’re 50 metres away. It’s a boon – my scent memory has brought me to tears upon entering a room, and a burden – especially when overpowering scents lead to major sinus headaches. Most importantly, perfumes are such a personal choice and what smells a certain way on one person can smell completely different on another.

A trip to SpaceNK for a top up of one of my favourite toners (Rodial’s Dragon Blood toning spritz made from the blood of actual dragons, sort of) led to a wander around the shop and a sniff of the beautiful Diptyque scents. I had mostly heard about Diptyque making beautifully scented candles but I’m not really a huge candle person. The ones I have at home are all gifts because I can’t bear the thought of spending £40+ on something I’m going to burn. That’s ridiculous to me. I may as well set fire to my money! (When did I turn into my mother?!?)

I set about sniffing different bottles, whilst Hubby sprayed tester strips for me to sniff and/or veto. By some miracle we found the perfect replacement. The gorgeous Do Son has a similar white floral and tuberose scent, but is more powerful. I was delighted to finally find a new perfume.

But then the magic happened – I smelled this: 

It made me smile. No, actually it made me laugh. I was happy. I was a happy, laughing loon, happily laughing and sniffing a bottle of Philosykos

You’re going to think I’m a sap but within ten seconds I had tears in my eyes. This delicious, fruity, sensual scent was a step back in time. It was a hot summer’s day stood in a grove of fig trees, with a plate of figs opened and ready to eat. It was happiness in a spray. 

I walked away from the store with my wrist to my nose, trying to defeat the urge to nibble at it. I didn’t realise that this amazing scent had been around since 1996. I mean, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE?! Why had I never smelt this in my life before?! Not only could I eat my beloved figs, I could smell like one too!

I didn’t purchase then and there because it was going to be my birthday soon (this was back in middle of July) so could finally tell loved ones what I wanted for a gift. Hubby managed to get me the travel sized version (3 x 12ml) of both Philosykos and Do Son which was perfect as I wanted both – I’m a have-your-cake-and-eat-it kinda girl – and I’ve enveloped myself in figgy goodness ever since. If I’m feeling gloomy or blue I just spray Philosykos and feel instantly better. I don’t care if it’s more of a summer scent, I’ll still be in my happy, sunny, fig-induced haze in the depths of winter. If we’re close pals then you’re welcome to have a sniff of my neck if you need cheering up too. 

Please Diptyque, promise me you’ll never ever EVER discontinue this scent. It’s happiness in a bottle and I think everyone should have it.

What’s your absolute favourite scent?

Love, Catherine x

We’re jamming…

I have a massive sweet tooth. In fact, I’m pretty sure all my teeth are sweet. I love sugar and sugar loves me – sort of. So it’s no surprise that I like to smother it all over a tasty scone/crumpet/croissant/slice of toast in its most delicious form as J A M.  fig & apricot In the past few years I have eschewed the usual strawberry for different fruits. My favourites of recent times have been fig, quince and apricot.

Figs may deserve a post all of their own, I SO adore this fruit. I have mistakenly gorged myself on one too many once or twice and felt the unpleasant side effects, who hasn’t?! The joy of having a full bowl of recently picked, cool from the fridge, beautifully ripe and juicy green figs is one of life’s simple pleasures. They’re nature’s succulent sweeties. Made into a jam so I can eat them at breakfast is a delight. Honey sweetness, a burnished gold colour, with a little crunch from the seeds. YUM. 

Where to buy: Jamie Oliver did a delicious fig jam, bought from one of his Recipease eateries, but I can’t seem to find a link to the product. My recent taste of it has been the Bonne Maman Fig Conserve, available from all good supermarkets. 

Quince is another beauty of a fruit, looking like an apple-y pear, golden yellow in colour and with a sweet scent. Near my Avó’s house in Portugal was a school that had quince trees dotted around the perimeter and I remember seeing branches heavy with strange fruit. I can only remember to have tasted quince in preserve form though, or rather as I know it, marmelada. 

“You mean marmalade, right?” WRONG. As a bilingual kid I couldn’t seem to get my head round the difference between the two. One is made from quince, the other from citrus fruits with bits in it. Nope, I don’t mean Paddington Bear’s favourite spread, I mean this: marmelada The above is known in English as a quince cheese and basically is a solid, sliceable form of quince jam/preserve. It’s delicate but has a very slight grainy texture, almost like a dryish pear. It gets its reddy-brown colour from being slowly cooked with sugar for a long time. It has ancient roots too, with a recipe found in a Roman cookbook.

I remember cutting thin slices from a tub and eating in between Rich Tea biscuits, or eating in papos secos but the sweet tart flavour is also delicious with some fresh cheese or a gorgeous hunk of bread. 

Where to buy: available in tubs from all good Portuguese deli shops. Check out Café Sintra in the Stockwell/Brixton area in South London.

Apricot jam is often overlooked. Sometimes it’s used as a base for sticking marzipan to cakes, so not seen to be as glamorous as its other fruity counterparts. Personally, I love the delicate taste and I like that it’s so versatile. Slightly sweet, slightly tart, for me it’s a lovely balance. 

Where to buy: on a recent long drive to the coast we stopped by the amazing Eggs to Apples in Hurst Green. This gorgeous little farm shop had beautiful fresh products that were either British or locally sourced (try the Cornish mussels and the carrot cake, both divine!) I picked up a Martha and Ed’s jar which was scrumptious. I love their ethos of making smaller batches, thus meaning a higher fruit content without need for additives or preservatives.  We recently picked up a Sunberry jar (a raspberry/blackberry cross) which is gorgeous. 

The holy grail of jams for me is tomato. “What?!?” I hear you say, “what madness is this?!” Tomato is a fruit, n’est pas? It is. The sweet yet tart flesh yields the most beautiful taste. Doçe de tomate takes me way, way back to my childhood and long summer holidays in Portugal that were filled with food and sunshine. Visits to grandparents and bringing back tomatoes the size of a small loaf, known colloquially as coração de boi or Ox heart tomatoes. These giants, grown in the quinta just a few yards away would usually be strange and misshapen, different to the grocers and supermarkets back home in London. Their colours ranged from rich reds to acidic yellows and everything in between. They were perfect for jam making especially as there was always an abundance whenever we visited. 

I can still hear the whistle of the pressure cooker in Avó’s kitchen. I can still see the pantry cupboard stocked with jars ready for my stay, for me to have with a papo seco roll for breakfast or an afternoon snack (no wonder I’d come back with such chubby cheeks!) and there’d be extra for me to bring back in my suitcase carefully wrapped in newspaper and clothes. 

Where to buy: sadly those halcyon days of being fed sweet treats by my grandma are gone and she’s not made jam for many, many years. I’ve been getting my tomato jam fix from jars bought at Lisbon airport carefully rationing them and saving for special occasions – I have a quarter of a jar left, it’s reaching a critical level!! I’ve not found any tomato jam for sale here yet, only the horrible chutneys that insist on adding chilli, peppers or other nastiness to my beloved jam. I’m guessing it may be on sale in a Portuguese deli shop and when I next visit one, I may need to clear their shelves. However, if anyone wants to either make me some from their large tomato crop, or pick some jars up next time you fly from a Portuguese airport I would be SO HAPPY and grateful!

Let me know if you’ve tried any of the above or have any suggestions for me to try in the comments below!

Catherine x