The Last Fig: book two, The Truth About Secrets
Updated: 2 days ago
twilight time; secrets and shadows
Lidia watched the hummingbirds buzzing in and out of the nasturtiums, monarch butterflies drinking the late summer nectar from her buddleia, lazily flapping their wings in drunken content. The burnished sun, sunk low on the horizon, lit-up the alleyway where dozens of tiny insects hovered and hummed, busily winding-up the dusky day.
She picked the last fig from Nick’s tree, the one his godfather gave him twenty-two years ago to plant in their new home. She’d had her plans for the garden then, to create an abundantly floral courtyard, no tomato stakes and bean poles, but a romantic, fragrant oasis. The garden was hers, the kitchen, his.
Nevertheless, she grudgingly gave up a little spot, a sun trap in the south corner against a brick wall, and it flourished. She didn’t expect much fruit, but year after year, it bore enough for several delectable frangipane crostate, and now, placed before her, the one last beautiful, ripe, purple fig, her special treat.
Lidia looked down at her son, kicking and fussing, refusing his bottle, sleepy, grumpy, but determined not to let the light die without him; his little fists flailing against imaginary bonds, his high-pitched, scratchy voice, bleating and straining to be understood. His mother cradled him, staring away, not really listening, resigned that one of them would soon wear the other out. It was only a matter of who and when.
Hearing footsteps behind her she looked to the basement stairs.
“Oh, sorry Lidia, I didn’t know you were out here,” Lola said, turning back, holding her cigarettes and ashtray in one hand, the other clutching her silk kimono.
“Don’t be silly Lo, come and join us. You might even be able to give this one a lesson on how to squawk in key,” she said, barely mustering the strength to laugh.
“Mercy me, don’t he have a lot on his mind. Looks like he just can’t wait to start talkin’ and walkin’,” Lola said, tickling one of Antonio’s busy feet. “Here, let me take him, you look done-in sugar,” Lola said rocking the noisy, squirming bundle.
“Thanks, I need a break,” Lidia said, stretching and yawning.
“No problem, it’ll keep my hands off those cigarettes. I quit three months ago, but I’ve lapsed, it’s the hormone treatments, I have night sweats, and get edgy; smoking calms me down.”
“Ever tried massage? I know a spa that offers great therapies, their practitioners are really good. I’m due for a ‘me day’, you could come with me,” she said, biting into the warm juicy fig.
“I’d love that, good massage might help,” Lola agreed. Then getting-up with the baby, she strolled around the garden, singing soft and low to him, until eventually Antonio quieted down and nodded off to sleep, blissfully unaware of the consternation he caused his weary mother.
Sitting back down, handing the baby to Lidia, Lola said, “That’s better, I think he’s down for the count.”
“You have a gift, Lo. What was that lovely song?”
“Oh, that’s an old Creole lullaby, a douce berceuse, that one was ‘Dodo, Ti-Pitit Manman’. My Haitian granmè used to sing it.”
Fig Frangipane Crostata
frangipane is a delicious, rich tart/crostata filling of ground almonds, eggs and sugar
· 1/2 cup (125 ml) cold unsalted butter
· 1/3 cup (75 ml) sugar
· 1 egg
· 1 1/2 cups (375 ml) unbleached all-purpose flour
· 1/4 teaspoon (1ml) salt
· 1/2 cup (125 ml) unsalted butter, softened
· 1/2 cup (125 ml) sugar
· 2 teaspoons (10 ml) vanilla extract
· 2 eggs
· 1 1/4 cups (310 ml) ground almonds
· 3 tablespoons (45 ml) unbleached all-purpose flour
· 8 fresh, washed figs, whole or halved lengthwise
· First whisk together the sugar, flour and salt. Then, using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour until it is crumbly, but not too fine. With a fork, stir-in the egg. Then using your hands, bring the dough into a soft ball. Roll or press the dough into a 27-cm (10 1/2-inch) tart pan. Cover and refrigerate for 15-20 minutes.
With the rack in the bottom position, preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).
In a bowl, cream the butter with the sugar and vanilla using an electric mixer. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until the mixture is smooth. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients. Scrape the mixture into the chilled pie shell.
Fruit : Lightly push the whole figs, bottoms down, into the tart, arranging from the center, moving outwards. If using halved figs place them in the same way, cut side up, leaving space between each fig, distributing evenly.
Bake until the frangipane is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 50 minutes.
Let cool. Serve warm or cold.