Hottentot Fig – carpobrotus edulis
Also known as Ice Plant, Kaffir Fig, Sour Fig and Pig Face; Hottentot Figs are a member of the Aizoaceae/Stone Plant botanical family.
Introduced from South Africa, this attractive alien now grows profusely in the wild, carpeting vast areas – especially in warmer coastal regions such as Cornwall and the Scilly Isles. Nevertheless it can be found sporadically elsewhere and as far north as the coast of Caithness in Scotland.
Its large purplish-pink or yellow flowers appear from April till September and give way, at least appearance-wise, to fleshy fig-like fruit. Nevertheless, rarely fully sweet and ripe, the fruit taste nothing like a fig; instead the highly mucilaginous seeds, surrounding liquid and flesh have a mild and very faintly sweet subacid barely salty flavour. The three-sided succulent leaves, like the fruit are edible raw or cooked. However, although the leaves do make a good pickle, their high tannin content renders them unpalatable raw without some preparation – pricking and soaking for many hours in several changes of water. In fact, this tannic and astringent leaf juice can be applied externally to treat cuts, eczema, insect bites, and sunburn, while as a gargle or mouthwash it can be used to treat sore throats, gum infections and ulcers.
Both the leaves and fruit can be used to make chutney as well as pickles. To pickle the leaves either slice into triangles or prick whole leaves with a pin many times and leave overnight in a light brine. For best results, cold pickle the triangular segments in sweetened pickling vinegar and hot pickle whole leaves: Simply boil them in the vinegar for 1 minute before transferring to preheated jars.
The whole fruit are perhaps best candied or turned into jam – pectin needs to be added in some form, although my favourite thing to do is to incorporate them into salad dressings.
Pig Face – but slimming,
- 3/4 pt Hottentot Fig fruit (seeds and liquid from approx 150 figs*)
- 3 tbspn sweet wild apple juice
- 1 tbspn seabuckthorn juice
- ¼ pt staghorn sumac berry extract (1 pt spring water)
- 1-2 wild garlic bulbs, crushed
- 1-2 tsp crushed charlock, black mustard seeds or any other hot tasting cabbage family seeds
- sea salt
- a little extra virgin rape seed or olive oil if desired
*The contents of 5-10 figs is enough to make a small individual dressing. Indeed a very quick dressing could be made from this, a pinch of salt, tiny bit of garlic and a squeeze of lemon.
- Cut open the hottentot figs and squeeze contents out into a bowl.
- Pull the berries off the staghorn sumac berry clusters and squash with a potato masher in the spring water;
- stain off ¼ pt of the extract.
- Mix with all the other ingredients.
- Bottle, refrigerate and use within a week.
Quick boiling to pasteurize will make it stay fresh longer. If doing the latter, place the garlic and mustard seed in the bottle and pour over the hot liquid.