Fig season got something of a late start this summer, but since the second week of July, the plump sweet fruit has been bountiful on fig trees throughout the area.
Figs are a wonderful, old-fashioned kind of fruit, and even if they’re not among your favorites, you probably have memories of someone you love picking them and filling the kitchen with their irresistible aroma.
Indeed, many of us have traditional fig recipes that are fun to share this time of year.
One such example comes from June Peay, who was a dear and longtime friend of former state Sen. John Hainkel, who died in April 2005.
Earlier this summer, Peay sent me recipes for Hainkel’s famous fig preserves and favorite fig ice cream, and I’ve been waiting for the figs to ripen so we could run them.
Like the legendary senator himself, Hainkel’s fig ice cream was something of an institution around the State Capitol, according to those who knew him well and had occasion to enjoy his irresistible frozen confection every summer.
Former legislators recall eating the ice cream in the kitchen of Hainkel’s Uptown New Orleans home while he held court - and marveling over how good it was.
Former state Rep. Woody Jenkins once called it the best ice cream he’d ever eaten.
And Peay has fond memories of making the ice cream every summer, then sharing it with friends in New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
She and Hainkel also shared the copious batches of fig preserves they made each year. The highly sought-after jars were included in the brown paper bags of homegrown Louisiana products that Hainkel sent to hundreds of constituents and supporters every Christmas.
“We made more than 250 every year that went out to people all over the state,” Peay said. “People loved them.”
I knew Hainkel, having grown up with his children in New Orleans, and still delight in remembering his quintessentially Southern sense of style - white bucks, seersucker suits or madras plaid shirts - and his larger than life personality.
He was an effective politician back in a day and age when elected officials still cared about bipartisanship and civil discourse.
He was also gruff, irreverent and fun, and cared deeply about the state in which he lived and helped govern.
That he had special recipes for one of Louisiana’ s favorite, indigenous fruits would be characteristic of him. That he delighted in sharing them was also in keeping with his gregarious, generous spirit.
He would want fig lovers to continue to enjoy his recipes. They’re relatively simple to make, and, like Hainkel himself, lots of fun.