After a cup of green tea in the Gadagne museum and a cake that tasted of chalk, I wandered up to the deserted Parc de Hauteur to pick figs. What would I have been doing on a Sunday afternoon ten years ago, apart from washing back post-party-pints in a dirty pub in East Nottingham? My mind is hazy of that period, but one thing is sure. There were no fig trees.
Along with dates, I’ve only ever seen them dried in packets, wrapped tightly in cellophane. And like dates, I’ve never really liked them. Too fibrous. Too sweet. Too exotic. Yet fresh from the tree, they are completely different. Yes, the texture of the skin is a bit disconcerting: Imagine biting through the thumb of a leather glove. And the thousand seeds inside is like chewing on sand, but apart from that, they are remarkably tasty. Difficult to compare with any other fruit. Simply fig-like.
Picking fruit or vegetables is one of life’s most satisfying things, don’t you think? Two Sundays ago I hit the jackpot of nature’s Happy Meal. A ‘fast’ food melange of Walnuts, Figs, Quince, Chestnuts. All I needed was a freshly skinned rabbit, some wild parsnips, a sprig of rosemary and voila. A free Sunday roast for a family of four.
I remember picking elderberries with my mother when I was a young child. It was a long time ago now – almost in another dimension – but I can still remember the joy of ripping the fat berries off the branches, bright purple juice smearing our hands and no doubt my clothes too. Whatever the fruit, I still get immense pleasure from this time-honoured ritual that takes me back to those golden moments back in Leeds. My parents used the elderberries for making wine and it occurred to me as I was plucking the figs from the tree, that perhaps there is such a thing as fig wine.
A quick glance at the internet when I got home confirmed it. Not that I had doubted it; you can make wine from anything. Banana skins even.
I’d harvested around ten figs from my secret tree, mostly unripe and therefore inedible. But leaving them on top of the fridge ripens them in about a week. When they’re ready, don’t overdo it. They’re a strong fruit; nutritious and good for digestion, but that can have its consequences. Especially, if you’re out and about…
Since I’ve been back in Lyon, I’ve collected apples, figs, plums, grapes, walnuts, chestnuts, wild garlic, mushrooms, quinces, pears and blackberries. A pretty good harvest considering I live in the fourteenth biggest city in Europe.
My heart lies in the countryside. What would I find and eat if I lived in the heart of rural France? Tables worth of luxuries: Truffles, girolles, almonds. Plates full of vegetables and home cured ham and duck. Goose and quail eggs. Homemade pate. Goat’s cheese. Black breads. Butter churned in a wooden urn. Flagons of sickly sweet vin de figue.
I feel this all the time, but I can’t relinquish the claw like grip the city has on me. True, I like the thrill of the metropolis, but it’s only because I’m used to it. Grown up in it. Foraging every Sunday would be equally addictive. More so. A glass of fresh fig wine and a peppered walnut on my return, instead of a pint of Shipstones Best Bitter and a Scotch Egg sandwich.