The Fig Tree, the Cardinal and a Fig and Honey Clafoutis Recipe

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


My father had the most magnificent fig tree in his yard.  It was about twenty-five feet tall and the breadth of its branches was almost as wide.  Though he would never actually confirm it, the rumor is that he bred the tree using cuttings smuggled here from a bigger and even more magnificent fig tree that sits on the grounds of his ancestral home in Italy.  I have seen that original tree with my own eyes, and eaten its fruit.  It is amazing!

Dad’s fig tree was the jewel in his garden.  He babied and fussed over it.  He nurtured it through winters that were too cold and summers that were too hot.  That tree was the Goldilocks of fig trees.  Everything about it was just right, including the lush, moist fruit that grew from it.  Dad’s figs were almost the size of small fists!  Ripened by the sun, their flesh was so sweet that droplets of dew-like nectar oozed freely from them.   There was nothing – and, I mean nothing, people – that could rival the taste of my father’s figs.

Almost five years ago, on a grey November day, cancer stole my father away.  Within two weeks, the fig tree dropped all of its leaves, shriveled up and died.  I kid you not.  It was like the tree was in mourning and died of a broken heart. The only sign of life that has come from that tree since is the occasional appearance of a gorgeous, crimson cardinal, who swoops in from time to time and perches itself on a bare, brittle branch.   The bird just sits there, calmly looks around for a minute or two, and then flies off again.

None of us has the heart to chop down the fig tree.  Dad loved that tree, and to do so would almost be like losing him all over again.  So it still stands in its place beside the house as a bittersweet reminder of what once was.


Perhaps it is because of all of those wonderful, homegrown fresh figs I’ve devoured in my life, that I’m in so love with them.    Even now, I have a hard time passing them up when I find them at the market.  Sadly, they’re not quite the same when they come out of a plastic container.   I still buy them however, even though I’m often disappointed.

Another thing I can’t pass up is a good deal.  A few days ago, my market was having a BOGO sale on fresh figs.  They looked really lovely, so I slipped two quarts in my shopping cart, hoping that they would be good.  As I suspected, they were all style and no substance.  Out of the two dozen or so that I had, only about six were worth eating.  The rest were a little hard and dry, and the only thing I could think of that might save them was heat.  I find it intriguing how stewing, baking or roasting lackluster fruits can bring them back to life.  I’ve tried it with  berries, peaches, tomatoes and now, figs.  It works every time.

I thought about making some kind of tart with my figs, but honestly, I wasn’t in the mood to make a crust.  So, I decided that they would be just as delicious in a clafoutis.  For those who don’t know, a clafoutis is a French dessert where fruit is baked in a custard base.  Think of it as a crustless pie.   Traditionally, a clafoutis is made with cherries, but almost any kind of firm fruit will work well.   I love the combination of figs and honey, so I also decided to use that instead of sugar.


Despite its fancy, French name, making a clafoutis is very easy.  The first thing you need to do is cut up your fruit and artfully arrange them in a pie plate or glass baking dish.


Then, whizz up the rest of the ingredients in a blender and pour it over the fruit.


Bake the clafoutis until the custard sets and the top is nicely browned.

Look at how pretty it is!  And it tastes as good as it looks, too.  The custard was rich and creamy, with soft floral notes from the honey and the splash of orange flour water I also added.    Once baked, the figs took on a soft, jammy quality, and their sweetness intensified.   It was a lovely and elegant dessert that took hardly any effort at all.


I wish I had known about things like clafoutis when my father was around.  As delightful as this one was, I can’t help but wonder how spectacular it could have been with his figs.

*Photo of cardinal from

25 responses to The Fig Tree, the Cardinal and a Fig and Honey Clafoutis Recipe

  1. On August 30, 2011 at 3:47pm, Jenny said...

    How spectacular with his figs and him sitting sharing a piece with you :-).

    • On August 30, 2011 at 6:58pm, Susan said...

      Ah! Wouldn’t that be wonderful! :)

  2. On August 30, 2011 at 4:09pm, Rosa said...

    That is a beautiful bird!

    Your clafoutis looks so luscious! What a perfect texture.



    • On August 30, 2011 at 6:59pm, Susan said...

      Thank you, Rosa! :)

  3. On August 30, 2011 at 4:32pm, bellini said...

    I have yet to have a fig straight from the tree. It is on the bucket list of things I must do.

    • On August 30, 2011 at 7:00pm, Susan said...

      If my tree ever bears fruit, I’ll send you some. :)

  4. On August 30, 2011 at 6:29pm, ruth lando said...

    What a magnificent posting! I love your story and your fig clafoutis looks beyond beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

    • On August 30, 2011 at 7:00pm, Susan said...

      Thank you, Ruth! Much appreciated!

  5. On August 30, 2011 at 6:52pm, Renée J. (RJ Flamingo) said...

    What a lovely clafouti and a beautiful story to go with it. Not to mention the glorious photo of that cardinal! Wonderful post, Susan!

    • On August 30, 2011 at 7:01pm, Susan said...

      Thanks, Renee!

  6. On August 31, 2011 at 1:38am, Katrina said...

    Yum! This looks perfect!

  7. On August 31, 2011 at 9:26am, Rachel (S[d]OC) said...

    What a beautiful tribute to a man and his tree. Dad must have truly loved nature’s creations. I wish I could have seen that tree and the one in Italy as well.

    I just discovered that I liked figs a few years ago. That was because I never had a fresh one. Once I tried a fresh fig I was hooked. I would love to try this recipe (and I would have it all to myself since SPP has declared he is “not a fig person”). I’m even starting to branch out and eat dried ones now. I experimented last night with a dried-fig-stuffed chicken breast that I hope to post in a day or two.

  8. On August 31, 2011 at 3:28pm, Victoria Wise said...

    I love your blog. Having had a father and figs in my life, I especially enjoyed this one, with the cardinal, double especially.

  9. On August 31, 2011 at 4:46pm, ciaochowlinda said...

    That was an incredible story about the fig tree and your dad. I’m sure he is keeping an eye on you and loving your post. I am not a big clafouti lover, but I have to say that looking at yours, so custardy and figgy – well, makes me wish I had a slice.

  10. On August 31, 2011 at 4:52pm, Farmer Jen said...


  11. On September 01, 2011 at 1:07am, Foodiewife said...

    What a touching story. I love the beautiful cardinal. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one like that in my part of California. This is such a brilliant way to make a clafouti. I’m tempted…

  12. On September 01, 2011 at 2:06pm, Paul said...

    Hey Susan, my colleague has not so big of a fig tree but as you said, nothing can beat sweet, fresh, juicy figs. Anyways, he made the most splendid fig sauce to go with pancakes–it is to die for! I was wondering if you would like to try it? I could always send you an email with the recipe.

  13. On September 01, 2011 at 4:34pm, paula said...

    Lovely post! I adore figs too. There’s nothing like picking fresh figs and making them into something wonderful. Your calfoutis looks beautiful!

  14. On September 03, 2011 at 3:44pm, Annie said...

    It’s stories like that … such coincidences and strange happenings …make even an atheist wonder. You must miss your dad so much. My dad died of cancer, too, and you never get over the loss.

    I have never liked figs, and my one experience with clafouti left a lot to be desired, but I’m tempted to try that recipe; you made it sound so lovely.

  15. On September 03, 2011 at 4:25pm, Cathy A. said...

    What a lovely story. My husband and I both love figs so I can’t wait to try this recipe.
    My husband was born in Queens and then moved to Long Island when he was a young boy. His family had fig trees when they lived in Queens and they always called them linoleum trees, because the trunk of the fig tree was wrapped in linoleum so that the squirrels couldn’t eat the figs. He still calls them that, even to this day.

  16. On September 04, 2011 at 8:34pm, Lee aka Kaptainkosh said...

    I love your blog. I recently started cooking and decided to start a blog as well. I live in NYC and my blog is called “Cookin’ with the Kaptain”

    Take a look and let me know what you think! Thanks – KK

  17. On September 05, 2011 at 12:49pm, Lee aka Kaptainkosh said...

    I really like your blog and this recipe looks great – I haven’t tried making any desserts yet.

    I live in NYC and just took up cooking and picked it up pretty quickly. I recently started my own blog also.

    Take a look and let me know what you think :)

    Thanks! – KK

  18. On September 05, 2011 at 9:25pm, C. said...

    I just found your blog searching for Edible Sarasota’s magazine. This looks like a great recipe. I am pinning it to use when we get more organic figs in our buying clubs produce box. WIsh I had known about it last time we got them. I had a ton of juicy organic black mission figs and needed some recipes to try. But I’m glad I have it for next time! Not sure if you have heard about it but Annies Organic Buying Club serves our local area. The produce we get as members is amazing!

  19. On September 11, 2011 at 7:56pm, Jennifer @ Loving Bytes said...

    I made this last week as soon as I saw your post. I had a box of figs in my fridge that were waiting for the perfect recipe. I made it without the orange flower water because I didn’t have any and happened to have all the other ingredients on hand. It was delicious and SO easy to make! Will definitely be adding it to my list of go-to desserts!

  20. On July 31, 2013 at 10:27am, MBB said...

    Just discovered your blog when searching for a different recipe to use the figs from our tree here in SC which produces an overabundance of delicious figs every year. I was touched by the beautiful story of your father’s fig tree, and the cardinal who continues to visit. Made my first claflouti with cherries about a month ago and am planning to try your recipe tonight with my juicy ripe figs. Thank you for the story and your recipe

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kiss the cook!

Hello and welcome to SGCC! I’m Susan, a professional writer, food columnist, recipe developer, wife, mother, daughter and sister, who used to be a lawyer in a previous life. My love of food comes from a long line of wonderful and creative Italian home cooks who didn’t always have a lot, but knew how to make a lot out of what they had. I hope that you enjoy yourself while you’re here, and visit often! read more >>

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