Sunday, 15 September 2013

D.H. Lawrence | Fig Frangipane Tart

Lawrence's poem 'Figs' is less about eating customs or the botany behind the title's fruit, although both form an intrinsic part of the text, and more about women; or rather about the symbolism of figs which reveals the poet's attitude to female sexuality.

The proper way to eat a fig, in society,
Is to split it in four, holding it by the stump,
And open it, so that it is a glittering, rosy, moist, honied, heavy-petalled four-petalled flower.
Then you throw away the skin
Which is just like a four-sepalled calyx,
After you have taken off the blossom with your lips.

But the vulgar way
Is just to put your mouth to the crack, and take out the flesh in one bite.

Every fruit has its secret.

The fig is a very secretive fruit.
As you see it standing growing, you feel at once it is symbolic:
And it seems male.
But when you come to know it better, you agree with the Romans, it is female.

The Italians vulgarly say, it stands for the female part; the fig-fruit:
The fissure, the yoni,
The wonderful moist conductivity towards the centre.

The flowering all inward and womb-fibrilled;
And but one orifice.

It was always a secret.
That's how it should be, the female should always be secret.

There never was any standing aloft and unfolded on a bough
Like other flowers, in a revelation of petals;
Silver-pink peach, venetian green glass of medlars and sorb-apples,
Shallow wine-cups on short, bulging stems
Opening pledging heaven:
Here's to the thorn in flower! Here is to Utterance!
The brave, adventurous rosaceae.

Folded upon itself, and secret unutterable,
The milky-sapped, sap that curdles milk and makes ricotta,
Sap that smells strange on your fingers, that even goats won't taste it;
Folded upon itself, enclosed like any Mohammedan woman,
Its nakedness all within-walls, its flowering forever unseen,
One small way of access only, and this close-curtained from the light;
Fig, fruit of the female mystery, covert and inward,
Mediterranean fruit, with your covert nakedness,
Where everything happens invisible, flowering and fertilization, and fruiting
In the inwardness of your you, that eye will never see
Till it's finished, and you're over-ripe, and you burst to give up your ghost.

Till the drop of ripeness exudes,
And the year is over.

And then the fig has kept her secret long enough.
So it explodes, and you see through the fissure the scarlet.
And the fig is finished, the year is over.

That's how the fig dies, showing her crimson through purple slit
Like a wound, the exposure of her secret, on the open day.
Like a prostitute, the bursten fig, making a show of her secret.

That's how women die too.

When Eve once knew in her mind that she was naked
She quickly sewed fig-leaves, and sewed the same for the man.
She'd been naked all her days before,
But till then, till that apple of knowledge, she hadn't had the fact on her mind.

She got the fact on her mind, and quickly sewed fig leaves.
And women have been sewing ever since.
But now they stitch to adorn the bursten fig, not to cover it.
They have their nakedness more than ever on their mind,
And they won't let us forget it.

Lucas Cranach the Elder, Adam and Eve

Now, the secret
Becomes an affirmation through moist, scarlet lips
That laugh at the Lord's indignation.

They forget, ripe figs won't keep.
Ripe figs won't keep.

Honey-white figs of the north, black figs with scarlet inside, of the south.
Ripe figs won't keep, won't keep in any clime.
What then, when women the world over have all bursten into self-assurance?
And bursten figs won't keep?

D.H. Lawrence, 'Figs' (extracts)

Like Nietzsche's truth that, supposed to be a woman, would prefer not to go naked but would insist on being veiled, Lawrence's woman should always keep her mystery secret, unseen and unutterable; flowering inwardly, rejoicing in her covert nakedness.

But, whereas for Nietzsche, the veiling of woman-truth signifies that no ultimate truth exists behind the veil, Lawrence sees the veil in different terms, as a force of preservation - of the self, of culture. The female secret exposed, woman bursting into self-assurance, the consequences are fatal: what Lawrence calls 'the flux of death', a state of corruption and dissolution, a voluntary regression to the death-force of the marshes. This brings Lawrence's sexual politics, with notions of female wilfulness, into question. He also seems curiously to be forgetting that there is beauty in decay, pleasure in rottenness, and that corruption carries within the seeds of future.

~ Fig Frangipane Tart ~

September is the most luscious month, stirring auburn leaves in wet soil, breeding conkers and figs out of the mellow air. Ripe figs won't keep, but it's their evanescence that most fascinates me, their crimson affirmation of their own ephemeral existence. A burst fig, a fig that explodes in ripeness is a tantalizing invitation to delight in corruption, in life's mire and blood. Pairing them with almond in a delicately fragranced crust, this tart is perfect for enjoying the sweet nakedness of figs.

1 quantity pâte sablée (for a 23cm tart tin)
4-5 tbsp fig jam
1 tbsp fig liqueur (optional)
1 tsp lemon juice

100g unsalted butter
75g caster sugar
2 medium eggs
100g ground almonds or hazelnuts
35g self-raising flour

1 tbsp fig liqueur (or vanilla extract)
1/2 tsp almond extract
6-7 fresh figs, skinned and halved or quartered

3-4 tbsp apricot jam
1 tsp lemon juice
a few drops of water

Prepare the sweet pastry crust according to directions in the recipe, but substitute 30g ground almonds (or hazelnuts) for an equal amount of flour and add the grated zest of 1 lemon to the dough.

Lightly butter and line a 36cm x 12cm rectangular fluted, loose-bottom flan tin with the pastry, prick the bottom with a fork, cover with clingfilm and put back in the fridge for another 30 minutes. To bake blind, cover the sides with foil and place baking parchment on top. Fill this with baking beans and bake on the low er rack of a pre-heated oven at 185 C for 12-15 minutes. Remove the paper and beans, but keep the sides covered with foil, and bake in the oven for a further 5-8 minutes until dry and lightly golden.

Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool completely. Once the crust has cooled, heat 4-5 tbsp fig jam with 1 tbsp fig liqueur and 1 tsp lemon juice or water until it melts. Take off the heat and spread the jam over the bottom of the crust.

Prepare the frangipane: Using a hand-held mixer, beat the butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl for about 1 minute, until the mixture is white and fluffy. Gradually add the eggs, beating well after each addition. Add the almond extract and fig liqueur (or vanilla extract), then stir in the ground almonds and self-raising flour until you have a thick paste. If the paste is slightly loose, you can add 5-10g of each  ground almonds and self-raising flour. Spoon the frangipane over the biscuit base, spreading it evenly and making sure that it covers the fig jam completely.
Carefully place the figs on top, cut side up.

Bake for 30-40 minutes until the frangipane is set and the pastry is lightly golden, rotating the tin half-way through the baking time. (If the oven is too hot, turn the temperature down to 180 C and cook for longer.)

Remove the tart from the oven, and while it’s still hot, brush with the apricot glaze.

For the glaze: Combine the apricot jam, lemon juice and water in a saucepan and warm over medium low heat until the jam melts. Strain to get rid of the seeds and brush onto the fruit while it's still hot.

Note: I actually made my own fig jam and fig liqueur for this tart. I thought the jam was very tasty although it came out slightly thick, but I found my fig liqueur was far superior to the commercial brand, mainly because it was more potent and not as sweet.


  1. I'm interested in this homemade fig liqueur! Did you steep figs in vodka à la homemade vanilla extract, or is there a more complex method?

    1. Hi Hannah. Thanks for visiting my blog and huge apologies for the delayed response. I've been away in the mountains with no internet access. I made the liqueur a long time ago and had to go back to my scrappy notes, but there's nothing complex about it.

      Here's the recipe: I chopped 1 1/2 pound dried figs and placed them in a jar with 3 cups high proof vodka (I measured 750 ml) - the ratio is 1 pound dried figs for every 2 cups of vodka. The fruit must be completely immersed in the vodka. I sealed the jar (I believe I sterilised it first) and left it for 2 weeks and 3 days, shaking occasionally. Then I strained the contents and discarded the figs. I prepared the syrup by boiling equal amounts of sugar and water, i.e. 1 cup of each but used less than 1/4 cup because I didn't want the liqueur too sweet. You can certainly adjust to taste.

      Some recipes call for the figs to be reconstituted in boiling water but I ended up with some pretty unsightly and mushy fruit and had to start all over again. I also tried to make it with fresh figs, but that didn't work either. I think it's best with dried figs, which is great because you can make it all year round. I hope you try it and enjoy it!