Michelle McGrane’s ‘Thirteen Ways with Figs’

Figs at the market

Thirteen Ways with Figs
Michelle McGrane

Silence the village gossip with nutty figs
rolled in crushed peppercorns.
Layer the fiery fruit in a jar between bay leaves.
Store in a dark place for three days.
Leave your offering on her doorstep.
Sweeten your mother-in-law,
a small, crepey woman in a black dress
smelling of mothballs,
with stuffed quails roasted in thick balsamic sauce,
followed by ricotta-rose cheesecake and marzipan-filled figs.
Spill velvet-pink petals over her plate.
Soothe inflamed ulcers and lesions
with a steamed fig, slippery elm, flaxseed poultice.
Wrap around the weeping skin in a muslin cloth.
Pick a ribbed fig from the tree at twilight.
Split the dark cocoon in two.
Rub the wart with amber pulp and seeds.
Tie the halves together again.
Bury them in the flinty earth
under the waning moon.
Cure fatigue, insomnia or nightmares
by boiling milk poured in a pail
with sun-baked figs and turmeric.
Add lavender honey to taste. Drink slowly.
Bind three white Cilento figs
with a crimson ribbon for dreams of love.
Place the fruit under your pillow.
In the morning,
loop the ribbon around your waist.
If your heart is in your mouth,
sear it, eat it with figs.
Beguile your partner with fig-leaf absolute
dabbed along the curve of your neck.
Wear almond blossoms in your hair.
Dance on a terrace with a view of the harbour,
to the flashing grin of an accordionist
who smells of sulphur and plays like the devil.
Clap your hands. This is no time to tiptoe.
On a balmy midsummer evening, wrap up your al fresco meal
at the warped wooden table under the plane tree
with blistered grilled figs, spoonfuls of soft mascarpone
drizzled with orange blossom and rose water.
Smell the mimosa.
Don’t wipe the sugary smudge from your chin.
Carry the sated silence to bed.
Arouse your lover with plump, purple figs in a cool bowl of water.
Break the thin, moist skin with your fingers.
Close your eyes. Listen to your breathing.
On a windy day welcome your new neighbours across the pasture.
Make them feel at home with capocollo,
a sausage of figs, almonds, pistachios and cinnamon.
Fold in leaves
left in a basket on the porch. Follow the dung
trail home, a wasp
hovering at your shoulder.
In autumn, line your pantry shelves with jars of fig jam
scented with cardamom pods. Seal in the sunshine
with smooth wax discs and screw-top lids.
Feed a hungry family
with slow-cooked pork loin and Adriatic fig stuffing.
Serve with golden polenta. Garnish with watercress.
Open bottles of the full bodied local wine.
Taste the olive-wood smoke,
the measure of November’s indulgences.
When the sky pops and hisses with stars,
celebrate the year’s trailing tail.
Prepare fig fillets stuffed with amaretti biscotti
and smoky chocolate slivers.
Serve with steaming espressos before midnight.
Va bene.

20 thoughts on “Michelle McGrane’s ‘Thirteen Ways with Figs’

  1. Deb

    This is absolutely luscious. Brilliant with love and sensuality, folk-lore wisdom and lust.

    I adore this poem.

  2. johemmant

    I just read again en route to bed and I like the ‘carry the sated silence to bed’ stanza best……and the heart-eating ceremony. Wonderful work.

  3. Christine

    Are you kidding me? This is brilliant! My god, woman. I’m gone for five days and you present me with a tour de force. Unreal!

  4. Pingback: second Tuesday in April | Stoney Moss

  5. Julie

    Add one more to the list of compliments. This is absolutely wonderful. I love the “recipe” feel to it, and there are so many beautiful lines.

    Again, you have amazing smells and tastes in your words.

    I can’t wait to read your new book!

  6. Dick

    Fabulous – wonderfully rich, both in theme and treatment. So much for Lawrence’s reductive view!

  7. Pingback: On Figs… « the lemon kitchen

  8. Katina Vaselopulos (@KVaselopulos)

    Oh, Mischelle, this is amazing!
    Came to this almost by chance…What a coincidence! Was looking for a quote on figs for my book, which I am submitting middle June, and here I found your delightful poem.

    Love all of it but the fig jam would be perfect with my fig recipe and recollection of childhood memories back in Greece.

    If you would send me a permission letter, I would love to include more than one verse. Will you? If you are interested, please let me know at katiakantzia@msn.com.

  9. Sally Horner

    What a wonderful, evocative poem. The brilliance of combining poetry and practical recipes leaves this reader from the Greek island of Samos very grateful for ideas about what can be done with the figs from my loaded tree. Thank you.

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