Late summer is a lens flare lucid dream. An imperious, two-volume Oxford English Dictionary now keeps company with the fearful symmetry of a cheap ceramic tyger on the bookshelf in the newly cleaned out study. Kombucha ferments in a sea-foam green bowl tucked away behind the cupboard doors of the midcentury buffet. We leave in six days for New York, where I will have the opportunity to participate in the Sunday Suppers workshop with Nikole Herriot, wander markets, eat at momofuku má pêche, and gorge myself on treats from momofuku milkbar. Unreal. Wild cherry tomatoes roll around lens caps on the kitchen counter. Rowland S. Howard plays Shut Me Down, and I bake.
I wish I could relate the innards, the real guts, of the conversations that have been percolating around here lately. You see, I keep the company of a poet with blue eyes and exceptionally long eyelashes. He’s part fiend, part hierophant, and we bicker over things like whether or not the ancient wisdom of the Mayans and the potential apocalypse should be considered in planning a purely hypothetical jaunt to the British Isles. He imparts tales of Aleister Crowley’s one time residence above the oldest cheese monger in London, Paxton & Whitfield, much to my delight, and I regale him with my Transylvanian daydreams. Together we plot underground masquerades.
We lay awake late at night talking about immortality, the virtues of death, and whether we, as a society, will soon be growing human hearts like fat tomatoes. He, with animate eyebrows, tells me stories about a 92-year-old Okinawan fisherman diving into the sea like a young man and of the oldest woman alive, 115, singing. The bright side, a good attitude, he tells me, will keep you in vigor. It’s a fact.
We’ve sat on stoops and porches and talked with friends. I caught a firefly. I may have disabled it on accident. His mother sent us chocolate filled butter cookies. I ate too many. We sip. And plan. It rains hard. He smokes. We’re the parents of some water kefir grains now. We’re honing ideas. An exciting project is afoot. Handmade artifacts and a supper happening. I look forward to being able to say more as details become concrete in the coming weeks and months.
We spend a lot of time talking about sustenance: physical, spiritual, and intellectual. Poetry is as practical as a loaf of bread. Sometimes good work is difficult and slow like baking from scratch. It takes time to produce art, and it takes time to savor it, digest it. We require the sustenance of a fig and the sustenance of whalebone, owls, and Gladstone bags. Particles & waves. Heart geometry. Artists are as vital to a community as its farmers and cooks. A life without art isn’t worth living.
I’m inspired by everything around me, ideas, objects, people. Etchings, vintage smut, country estates, marmoreal slabs and corsetry, gourds and sorbets, sweetbreads, marrow, and parasols. My mind feels prismatic lately, and the late summer light refracts shades of fruit stall, of sticky fig, white peach, and the paper bag brown peel of Golden Gem apples. My eyes are big, bigger than my appetite and bigger than the hours in a day. I have such plans. It’s an exciting time to be anything at all and so…and so I buy too much fruit. So much fruit. Butter, flour, vinegar, fig, herb, yolk, honey, cane. I write, these days, in pie.
Balsamic, Fig, and Rosemary Hand Pies
yields about 18-22 4″ hand pies
I’ve been very keen to share the recipe for this fig pie all week. The filling is a satisfying balance of sweet, tart, and herbaceous. I’ve varied this recipe at times by adding a small dollop of goat cheese to the pies. They’re very good either way, and I can’t help but wonder if these could be made savory-sweet with the addition of not only goat cheese but some proscuitto, bacon, or pancetta as well? If I find out, I’ll be sure to let you know. If you try it, do let me know.
1 recipe of Buttery Pastry Shell (or the pie dough of your choosing)
2 cups of figs, cut into 1/2″ size pieces
2 Tbsp sugar
1/8th cup good balsamic vinegar
1/8th cup honey (raw sourwood)
2 tsp finely chopped rosemary
pinch of kosher salt
2 Tbsp cornstarch
goat cheese (optional)
1 egg, whisked
sugar for dusting (turbinado, sanding, or regular sugar work for this)
First prepare your dough which should then be divided in two, shaped into flat discs, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, and chilled. Allow it at least one hour to chill in the fridge. If I’m feeling impatient sometimes I pop it in the freezer to speed up the process.
Mix figs, sugar, balsamic, honey, rosemary, and salt in a medium bowl and let macerate for about 15 minutes (it can sit longer, even over night, to no ill effect).
Heat oven to 425° F.
Carefully pour off about 2 Tbsp of the liquid from the figs and mix with the 2 Tbsp cornstarch. Stir this back into the figs to thicken.
Roll out half your dough to about 1/8th inch thickness on a lightly floured work surface. Rotate the dough and flour as needed to keep from sticking. Using the cutter of your choice (I have used both 4″ and 2″ biscuit cutters to make tiny pies and tinier pies, but you could do shapes or whatever you like.) cut the dough out. If making double crust hand pies cut an even number, if making half moon hand pies then you needn’t worry about it. Lay cut out dough onto a parchment lines baking sheet and place in the fridge to chill for about 5-10 minutes. Again, sometimes I just put them in the freezer for a couple of minutes.
Fill a small bowl with cold water and set to the side. Whisk your egg in the bowl to use as a wash. Remove dough and fill with a scant table spoon of filling for half moon pies and a heaping tablespoon of filling for double crust pies. If making 2 inch pies use about a teaspoon of filling. If you wish, use a little less filling and top with a small dollop of goat cheese.
To seal the pies dip your finger in the cool water and run your finger around the rim of pie. Either fold over or top with second crust and press carefully but firmly to seal all around. Seal with the tines of a fork if desired.
Once pies are filled place them back into the fridge or freezer to chill for 10 or 3 minutes respectively. Remove from fridge and cut vent holes in the tops of the pies. Brush with the egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Chill once more before baking.
When ready to bake place the pies on a parchment lined baking sheet on the middle rack and bake for 5 minutes at 425° F. Reduce heat to 350° F, rotate pan and bake for another 10-15 minutes until golden brown, rotating the pan every five minutes if you have an uneven oven like mine to promote uniform browning. Place pies on racks to cool.
Repeat with the rest of the dough and filling.
*This could easily be made into a full sized pie or galette. If doing that, I would just halve or maybe quarter the figs depending on their size and adjust the baking times accordingly.