I think the first time I encountered a wild fig, I was about 22 and in Greece having a mooch around some ruins. As I come from a family that’s not particularly adventurous with its food, and has strong leanings towards the boiled meat and potatoes side of English cuisine, I’m pretty sure I’d never eaten a fig in any form before then. I certainly wasn’t familiar with this bulging little purple fruit, and had to be shown how to tackle it by an Italian acquaintance. I found this all rather embarrassing, but on the bright side, the fig was delicious, and I now know how to eat them. You live and learn. Most of my subsequent fig encounters, though, have been in the context of cheese. This is, of course, a brilliant pairing, but then I’m always favourably inclined towards anything that comes with cheese – if I wasn’t writing a blog about cocktails I’d probably write one about cheese. But as with any other seasonal fruit, my first instinct now is to shove it into a cocktail and see what happens.
Figs are very much an early autumn fruit, and in the UK they appear between August and October. They don’t keep for long once you’ve bought them, as they should already be ripe when they’re picked, so they’re an excellent fruit for impulse-buying and eating. There’s something kind of indulgent and voluptuous about eating figs – sure you can use them in recipes, but it’s so fun just to grab them and squish them apart in your hands and eat them right there. Nonetheless, this squishable quality makes them perfect candidates for muddling, just like blackberries, and as we head into the season of non-squishable, not obviously cocktail-friendly produce (a nice October turnip cocktail, anyone?), I’m making the most of the muddler.
For today’s cocktails, I made use of the incredibly helpful ingredient search tool on Kindred Cocktails, which provides endless recipes and inspiration. I decided to try two concoctions by other contributors on the site, namely the “Aged to Perfection” and the “NJ Sour.” Before I get to them, let me interject one small note of warning about making cocktails with muddled figs – you should be aware that 5-10 minutes of your life will be spent trying to fine strain them into a glass. The tiny little seeds in figs are just the right size to block up a strainer and make it virtually impossible to sieve the liquid through them. I was poking at a voluminous mush of squashed fig in a strainer for what felt like hours while I made these. Enjoy that!
First up, the Aged to Perfection, which was featured in Imbibe in 2012. This one features cognac, fresh orange, honey syrup, balsamic vinegar, and of course fresh figs. I tried this one in the name of pushing my cocktail boundaries a bit, as I must admit to having never liked honey, and also to struggling with vinegary cocktails. Vinegar is increasingly popular as a cocktail element, both in fruity shrubs and in more savoury offerings, but it is, along with fat-washing, something that makes me feel faintly nauseous. Nonetheless, intrepid cocktail explorer that I am, I girded the loins and plunged in. And then I leapt back out again. The combination of sweet and vinegary in this one just didn’t agree with me. And I think it’s good to admit when you run into a cocktail you don’t like – they’re not all for everyone. Still, in case you think it might be for you, here is the recipe:
Aged to Perfection
1 1/2 oz Cognac
1 oz fresh orange juice
1/2 oz honey syrup
1/2 oz aged balsamic vinegar
2 fresh figs
Muddle the figs in the bottom of a shaker, then add ice and the rest of the ingredients and shake well. Double strain into a chilled cocktail glass (set aside some time for this), and garnish with a slice of fig.
Next up, the NJ Sour, which I was of course biased towards as a former resident of the Garden State, although interestingly enough this seems to have been created for the Connaught Hotel in London (of the much ballyhooed Martini Trolley). This is one of those drinks which, like last week’s Blackberry Gimlet, falls into the “adult fruit juice” category – it’s definitely on the sweet and fruity side if you like that kind of thing. Really I chose it because it allowed me to use three of my new cocktail ingredients: my homemade grenadine, which is still looking like a gruesome jar of blood in my fridge, the bottle of Calvados which is coming in handy for all sorts of autumn-related cocktails (e.g. the Jack Rose), and Amaro Averna. I must say the Averna makes very little contribution in this drink though – any bitterness or indeed chocolateyness is lost in the general pomegranate-fig-lemon-apple melée. The jammy flavour and texture of the figs does come through really nicely here, so if you fancy a kind of seasonal fruit punch experience, I can recommend this one.
1 fresh fig
1 oz apple brandy
1/2 oz orange curaçao (I used Grand Marnier)
1/2 oz Amaro Averna
2⁄3 oz fresh lemon juice
1⁄2 oz Grenadine
Muddle the figs as before in a cocktail shaker, then add ice with the rest of the ingredients and shake. Fine strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a slice of lemon.