In 1992 when I moved to New York from Louisiana I took my love of the food of my home state right into my East Village kitchen – where regularly I made jambalaya, étouffée, gumbo, fricassée, courtbouillon, and all the rest, like I’d never left Cajun Country. The key ingredients (or reasonable substitutes) for those dishes are available pretty much anywhere. But there was one thing from home that I could not reliably find in the city – figs. This travesty resulted in my doing without one of my favorite Louisiana desserts: my mémère’s fig cake.
I grew up with the good sense to know that figs were special. So, while I despised the Louisiana summers (think relentless heat, dehumanizing humidity, and bombardments of blood-thirsty mosquitoes), I nonetheless looked forward to that time of year – from late June to early August – when figs ripen into the miraculous reminder that somehow, somewhere, there is a god. And in his/her generosity, this god has blessed old Louisiana with abundance.
It is a fact that many back yards in Acadiana (the Cajun region of the state) have several fig trees, often producing too many for mere mortals to consume. So it’s understandable that some (fools!) take them for granted. Not me. As a kid I loved them preserved whole in syrup just by themselves, or smashed together on a buttered toast sandwich, mashed into jam on a buttermilk biscuit, or dolloped on top of vanilla or pecan ice cream. And then there’s the cake – the thing that, all by itself, would make me walk right back into the furnace that characterizes the Louisiana summer, risk life and limb, to pick figs. (There’s more on fig-picking in my book, Stone Motel – Memoirs of a Cajun Boy.)
Below, mes chéries, is the recipe for my grandmother Ortense’s Gateau aux Figues. For those of you without access to home-grown-and-made fig preserves, I am happy to report that, in the past 10 years, I’ve been able to find decent commercial versions in local markets.
For the Glaze
1/4 cup of buttermilk
1/2 cup of sugar
1 teaspoon of cornstarch
1/2 stick of butter
1.5 teaspoons of vanilla
For the Cake
1.5 cups of sugar
2.5 cups of all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon of grated cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of grated cloves
1/2 cup of vegetable oil
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup of buttermilk
1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
2 cups of mashed fig preserves (homemade or store-bought)
1/2 cup of chopped pecans
For the Glaze
1 – In a saucepan, combine all ingredients except vanilla.
2 – Bring to a boil.
3 – Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.
For the Cake
Sift all of the dry ingredients together. In a separate bowl, whisk together the oil, eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla. Stir in preserves and pecans. Add the sifted dry ingredients, and mix well. Pour batter into a greased and floured Bundt or angel food pan and bake at 350 for about an hour (test with a toothpick). Let the cake cool for 20 minutes then remove from the pan. Pour warm glaze over the cake. Serves 12.
Photo: Norwood Themes, via Unsplash
© All Rights Reserved. Check out my book, Stone Motel – Memoirs of a Cajun Boy, where I mention more food and how it played a part in our lives. This recipe is from the companion cookbook: “Fix Me A Plate!” Please FOLLOW me! (form is at the bottom of this page).