Friday, 12 September 2008

Walnut, Fig and Plum Tart and Sauternes

We are lucky enough to have several Walnut trees in our garden and at this time of year we are busy gathering them and making Pickled Walnuts ready for Christmas – they are lovely with a cheese snack, although you have to watch that you don't stain your fingers black from the juice when peeling the fresh ones! We have yet to try making Walnut Oil or L'Eau de Vie de Noix (Walnut Liqueur) as the French do – maybe next year.

It was believed that walnuts first grew in Persia, but excavations in south west France have revealed petrified shells of walnuts roasted during the Neolithic period, more than 8,000 years ago. The very name of the walnut tree and its nut originated with the Romans. The Romans called walnuts Juglans regia, “Jupiter’s Royal Acorn.” In the 16th century people believed that the outer hull of the walnut could cure head-related ailments. Eating walnuts was thought to boost the intellect and soothe emotions because of its striking resemblance to the brain and heart, depending on the way the walnuts were cracked.

During the Middle Ages, Europeans believed walnuts would ward off fevers, witchcraft, epileptic fits, the evil eye, and even lightning. The Chinese believe crickets to be a creature of good omen, and would often carry musically-trained crickets in walnut shells covered with intricately-carved patterns.

Walnut, Fig and Plum Tart

180 g walnuts
5 fresh figs
5 plums
6 egg whites
250 g soft dark-brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 220C. Roast the walnuts on a baking tray for about 5 minutes, shaking the trays to prevent the nuts from burning. Allow to cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 180C.

Line and grease a cake tin. Remove the hard stem from each fig, then chop the figs and plums into small pieces. Toss the walnuts, plums and fig pieces together.

Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks, then slowly add the soft dark-brown sugar in heaped tablespoons until incorporated and mix until meringue is thick and stiff. Take a spoonful of the meringue and mix it through the figs and walnuts. Tip this back into the meringue and fold it through. Spoon the meringue mixture into the prepared cake tin and bake for 45-50 mins, until the tart pulls away from the sides and feels 'set' on top. Allow to cool and serve with a good dollop of mascarpone.

Sweet dessert wine would be lovely with this rich tart – Bordeaux is famous for its luscious sweet wines such as Château d'Yquem from Sauternes and there are many less expensive wines from this area which are delicious. Sauternes has 5 communes - Barsac, Sauternes, Bommes, Fargues and Preignac. All 5 can use the name Sauternes but Barsac also has its own appellation. Wines from Barsac are lighter and have a fresher style. These dessert wines have an incredible ability to age and continue to develop for decades. Nick is hoping to introduce some wonderful Sauternes from a petit château in time for Christmas so keep watching!

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