When you live in a foreign country, there will always be things that you miss about home. Certain foods which evoke warm memories of home and childhood are often top of the list of things you long for.
I spent nine years living in Japan, and I enjoyed comparing notes with my expat friends about what they missed. Vegemite always featured for the Australians, speciality cheeses for Europeans, and good tea bags was top for many Brits. It’s fascinating hearing about those simple daily foods which have a special place in our hearts!
For me, there was one food above all that I missed… fig rolls. When I was a student, training and studying hard, I was always on the look-out for nutritious, portable snacks that I could eat quickly before training. And that’s how I fell in love with fig rolls.
Crunchy yet soft inside, chewy and not too sweet, I convinced myself that, consisting mainly of fruit and being high in fibre, they were better for me than chocolate biscuits. So my lifelong love of fig rolls was born, and how I missed them when I lived in Tokyo! Being an endurance runner, I didn’t have the arm strength to lift a suitcase full of fig rolls, so my rations on each return trip home was limited to three packets.
From eating fig rolls, I also discovered fresh figs. The UK isn’t really hot enough to grow figs successfully so they aren’t easy to come by, and tend to be expensive. But they’ve become my favourite fruit, when I can find them… so soft and juicy, and with delicious flavour.
When I find something I like to eat, I love having a go at making it myself. And why not? It’s a great way to learn how to cook new things. Fig rolls are pretty simple to make, and are ideal snacks for runners, providing carbohydrate and fibre, and being easy to digest.
50g salted butter at room temperature
175g plain flour
Pinch of baking powder
Half teaspoon vanilla essence
200g dried figs
Zest and juice of one orange
• To make the pastry, beat together 40g of the sugar and the butter until smooth and creamy. Beat the egg and add it, along with the vanilla essence and mix well.
• Sieve into this mixture the flour and baking powder and mix everything together well. Form into a ball with your hands, wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least half an hour.
• Meanwhile, make the filling. Chop the figs into small pieces and put in a saucepan with the remainder of the sugar and the orange zest and juice. Heat over a low heat, stirring well until the mixture reaches the consistency of a thick paste. This should take about 10 minutes. Leave to cool and mash to break down the fig pieces.
• On a floured rolling sheet or baking parchment, roll the pastry out into two rectangles, about 25cm long and 10cm wide. Carefully add the fig paste in a strip lengthways on each rectangle, about 3cm in from one edge. Wet the other edge of the pastry using your fingers dipped into water. Then using the rolling sheet, parchment or the edge of a long knife, carefully roll the edge of the pastry nearest the filling over the top of the filling and keep rolling until the entire rectangle has become a roll. Repeat for the other rectangle.
• Using a sharp knife, slice the rolls into pieces about 2cm thick, lay them on their sides on a baking tray lined with baking parchment, and cook in a pre-heated oven at 180 degrees Celsius for 15 minutes until golden brown.