I came across a charming – but sadly, now defunct – Good Friday food tradition recently, and wanted to share it with you today.
My source was The Remains of John Briggs (1825), in the chapter Westmoreland As It Was.
It would formerly have been counted extremely profane, not to have dined, or at least supped upon, fig-sue, on Good Friday. This was made of ale, figs, and wheat bread. It may not be amiss to note that this fig-sue is a perfect cure for coughs and colds, if taken at bedtime.
I then came across this little snippet, which reveals a Scottish connection:
Customs of Scotland: ‘Fig-one’ is a mixture consisting of ale, sliced figs, bread, and nutmeg for seasoning: boiled together, and eaten hot like soup. The custom of eating this on Good Friday is still prevalent in North Lancashire, but the mixture is there known as ‘fig-sue,’ the origin of which term I am unable to make out. The dish is a very palatable one.
W.P.W. (Notes and Queries, 1864)
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first known written reference to the name is to be found in 1851 in a glossary of Cumberland (a historic county of England, now part of Cumbria) and the word is a corruption of ‘fig soup.’
The association of the fig with Easter in the North-West England is further reinforced by the fact that Palm Sunday in Lancashire used to be also called ‘Fig Sunday,’ and Fig Pie was the traditional food. I would love to know a little more about this particular association. I suspect it has very ancient roots.
In the seventeenth century, figs were a feature of the Good Friday dinner at Brazen-nose [now Brasenose] College in Oxford, England, if we are to believe the following:
It was formerly the custom, at Brazen-nose College, for the scholars to ave almonds, raisins, and figs, for dinner on Good Friday, as appears by a receipt of thirty shillings, paid by the butler of the college, for ‘eleven pounds of almonds, thirty-five pounds of raisins, and thirteen pounds of figs, serv’d into Brazen-nose College, Mar. 28th, 1662. – Pointer’s Oxon. Acad. P.71
Times Telescope (1826)
That is all I have for you at present, on figs at Easter, but I will certainly put the topic on my list of thing to look into further.
As the recipe for the day, I have a most strange and unappetizing idea from a book with the rather ominous, but intriguing, title of Unfired Foods and Hygienic Dietetics for Prophylactic Feeding and Therapeutic Feeding (1909) by George Julius Drews.
Cream of Fig Soup
1 oz. Dried Figs, mince and soak them 4 to 6 hours in
2 oz. Tepid Water. Then add to this
1 oz. Pignolias or Peanuts flaked
¼ Teaspoon Fennel or Anise seed ground (optional) and
4 oz. Tepid Water, not scalding. Beat and serve in a bowl heated in boiling water.