The title was going to be autumn flavours, but with the temperature rising to almost record levels, I prefer to think of September as late summer.

A large bowl of tomatoes sits on my kitchen worktop, alongside a cucumber, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, some days old bread and my ancient Valdespino sherry vinegar; ancient indeed, it is from a solera exhibited at the World Fair in 1904 and comes in at 17.5% acidity.

All of this speaks to the gazpacho I shall make later, probably adding one or two roasted and skinned piquillo peppers for colour and sweetness, or a sun-dried tomato or two, first soaked. After these last hot sunny days, late summer English tomatoes will be bursting with ripe juices, perfect for gazpacho.

Islington Gazette: The hot weather calls for a chilled soup like gazpachoThe hot weather calls for a chilled soup like gazpacho

The planned shepherd-style lamb casserole with broken potatoes will have to wait for another, cooler, day, in favour of a tortilla española and a plate of jamon iberico. A well-chilled recently bottled fino, followed by a similarly chilled cava makes for our perfect late summer supper. Of course, by the time you read this, temperatures will probably have plummeted, and you will be saying, "What is she on about with all these summery things?"

Still with summer in mind, while they are still green and fresh, I have been using fig leaves once again in my kitchen. Charlottes or similar small waxy potatoes are delicious when boiled with a fig leaf. The haunting aroma wafts through the kitchen while it is absorbed by the potatoes. Serve them hot or cold, with salmon, mackerel or other oily fish. The sharp 'green' scent of the fig leaf is a perfect counterpoint to the rich fish, which is why it works well for gravad lax.

As with all herbs and spices, cream, oil and butter are the best carriers for capturing a fragrance, as is alcohol. Similar techniques, enfleurage, distillation and maceration, are used in the perfume industry. It can be something as simple as wrapping a block of butter in fig leaves, and wrapping in greaseproof or foil, refrigerating it for a couple of hours.

A neutral oil such as grape seed or groundnut can be turned into a beautiful green-hued aromatic oil, by putting torn-up fig leaves in a jug, pouring over the oil, covering and leaving for a couple of days. Of course, any aromatic leaf or spice can be used in these methods. Tonka bean was a favourite a few years ago, and I made a tonka bean spirit simply with partially grated beans put in a bottle of vodka. It gets stronger and stronger the more beans I add to the point that it is now virtually an essence, which I use like vanilla or almond essence. I am now considering fig leaf gin.

However, my current favourite is a fig leaf cream; pale and wobbly, rich in texture, subtle in flavour. The brave will want to turn it out onto a plate, decorated with a fig leaf. Having once done something similar while filming my West Country series, I will leave it to the brave. My friend, Julia Child, however, was never flummoxed when she was filming live TV. When a whole poached salmon fell from the counter, she carried on, saying, "Well, now I can show you how to rescue it". Never complain, never explain is a useful motto for the cook, as well as for much else in life.

Islington Gazette: The set desserts are made with cream, custard and gelatine flavoured by fig leavesThe set desserts are made with cream, custard and gelatine flavoured by fig leaves (Image: Frances Bissell)

Fig leaf cream (Makes 4)


250 ml double cream

250 ml custard - home-made or commercial vanilla custard

1 or 2 medium size fig leaves, well rinsed

Gelatine - enough to set 300 ml liquid. See recipe.

Milk - see recipeIslington Gazette: Fig leaf creamFig leaf cream (Image: Frances Bissell)


Mix the cream and custard in a saucepan or large jug and add the fig leaves. Bring to the boil, or heat in the microwave. Stir well and leave to cool. Meanwhile, soak the gelatine in cold water.

Although the cream and custard mixture is more than 300 ml, it is very dense and should have a soft, panna cotta-like set. When the gelatine is soft, strain it and heat in the smallest amount of milk, 2 tablespoons should do, and you can use whatever milk you have in your fridge.

When the gelatine has dissolved completely, stir it into the still warm cream. Once the cream is cold but not yet setting, remove the fig leaf, 'squeezing' it clean of the cream. Divide the cream into four small (125 ml) moulds, cups or ramekins. Cover and refrigerate until required, allowing a good couple of hours for the mixture to set.

When ready to serve, decide if you want to turn out the creams or simply serve them in their containers. Dip the containers in hot water to below the rim and gently turn out. Metal containers need less application of hot water than china ones. These are best served unaccompanied to appreciate the subtle flavour. For a more substantial dessert, raspberry purée works, as does, of course, a roasted fresh fig.

Cook's note: the recipe can be scaled up for more servings. The cream is not very sweet; add caster sugar when heating if you have a sweet tooth.

PS You can read more about using scented flowers and leaves in The Scented Kitchen, by Frances Bissell published by Serif, and available on CKBK.

©Frances Bissell 2023. All rights reserved.