Sunday, 3 November 2013

Emily Dickinson | Honey-Roasted Figs and Plums with Blueberries

When I first came across the poetry of Emily Dickinson, I was fascinated by the simplicity of her verse, her unconventional punctuation and her idiosyncratic capitalisation. I was also intrigued by the reclusive nature of an author whose poetry seems to have overlooked the Civil War that tore up her country. Dickinson's engagement (poetic or otherwise) with the war still remains equivocal and there have been numerous attempts to either justify or explicate her political stance. Perhaps we are mistaken to expect poets to perform the role of chronicler directly responding to the historical events of her time. Perhaps poets are best left to sing the song they sing best not out of circumstance but pleasure.

The Day came slow - till Five o'clock -
Then sprang before the Hills
Like Hindered Rubies - or the Light
A Sudden Musket - spills -

The Purple could not keep the East -
The Sunrise shook abroad
Like Breadths of Topaz - packed a night -
The Lady just unrolled -

The Happy Winds - their Timbrels took -
The Birds - in docile Rows
Arranged themselves around their Prince
The Wind - is Prince of Those -

The Orchard sparkled like a Jew -
How mighty 'twas - to be
A Guest in this stupendous place -
The Parlor - of the Day -

Emily Dickinson, 'The Day came slow, till Five o'clock'

Above: Maurice Sterne, 'Figs and Plums'

Despite the highly personal tone of her poetry, Dickinson is by no means a comfortable poet to read; nor does the simplicity of her poetic style reflect a naive or apolitical treatment of her themes. There are political undertones in the poem, in the evocation of a military battle, but its significance is only explored in relation to the feeling of awe and wonderment that the natural scene generates. What I find most moving and most fascinating about this poem is the emotional intensity of the experience it describes but also its post-human attitude which denies any romantic notions of a reciprocity between the self and the natural world. This is a precious moment in Dickinson, when religious sentiment is not allowed to blur her vision of the universe as existing independently from and oblivious of humankind.

~ Honey-Roasted Figs and Plums with Blueberries ~

This is such a simple but beautiful dessert for when you only want the fruit on its own and the blueberries lend to it a luxurious crimson tint. I love the splendour of the colours and the depth of the flavours enhanced by the warm notes of brandy.

4-5 figs, halved or quartered
6 plums, halved
100g blueberries
1 bay leaf, torn
2 tbsp light or dark muscovado sugar
2-3 tbsp honey
2 tbsp brandy or Grand Marnier
1 star anise
60g unsalted pistachio nuts, roughly chopped

Heat the oven to 200 C.

Place the fruit in a shallow ovenproof dish in a single layer filling in the gaps with blueberries. Tuck the torn bay leaf pieces and star anise between the fruit. Sprinkle over the sugar. Pour the brandy and drizzle over the honey. Sprinkle half the pistachio nuts.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the fruit is sticky and soft but holding its shape and the juice has the consistency of syrup. Remove from the oven, sprinkle over the rest of the pistachio nuts and allow to cool for 10 minutes.

Serve warm or at room temperature with Greek-style yoghurt or vanilla ice cream. You would need thick yoghurt so that it doesn't completely melt under the weight or heat of the fruit.

If figs are not available, this recipe works really well with only the plums in the blueberry sauce. You can also replace the plums with nectarines for a more summery pudding.

I'm submitting this pudding to the Cooking with Herbs & Spices challenge for December 2013, hosted by Karen at Lavender and Lovage. I'm also entering it to Credit Crunch Munch December challenge, run by Camilla at Fab Food 4 All and Helen at Fuss Free Flavours, because for something so utterly delicious, you need very few ingredients and it only takes about 20 minutes to bake.

Cooking with Herbs


  1. If you omit the figs and replace the plums, then surely you don't really have the pudding described.

    1. If you replace both figs and plums at the same time, then obviously you don't have the same dessert. That's not what I meant. I meant that the recipe allows for some versatility in the combination of fruit; so if you can't get figs, you can still make this with just the plums on their own. Or if you don't want to use plums, you can pair the figs with nectarines, which is what the original recipe that I adapted had.

  2. How does the pudding relate to the poem (or vice versa)?

    1. The relation is not thematic but in terms of imagery. With all its rubies and purples and topazes that suddenly burst forth into the day, and with its vivid description of the sparkling orchard, Dickinson's poem is evocative of the splendor of colours at sunrise, which for me parallels the beautiful, warm colours of the baked fruit set against the whiteness of thick yoghurt. Also, this dessert is so simple that when I was looking for a text to relate to it, Emily Dickinson sprang to mind because her poems are so beautifully simple yet so intense and captivating.

  3. Emily Dickinson is wonderful. I've read so many of her poems, but this one was new to me. Thanks for sharing!
    And I think your roasted fruit looks terrific.

  4. WOW! What a FABULOUS entry into cooking with herbs for December and my spicy theme, and such lovely photos too! Thanks Maria! Karen

    1. Thanks Karen. It was such a pleasure participating in your lovely December challenge!