This is a dish with an unfortunate name but so delicious that it, nevertheless, demands a place in this book. Rapey is any spiced fruit spread. The star of the Rapey recipe is the almighty fig. Figs are one of the oldest documented fruits. Their cultivation was in Asia Minor as far back as eleven thousand years ago. By 2500 BC, the Sumerians wrote of figs being turned into cakes called she-er-ku. These cakes would have a use as an offering to the Gods. Figs must have enjoyed this association with the Gods, as they continued to find their way into many old religions.
The Egyptian goddess Hathor was said to have sprung from a fig tree. She welcomed the souls of pharaohs to the afterlife. The Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, sat under a fig tree, known as the Bodhi Tree, to attain enlightenment. I cannot say that it was the figs themselves that led to Buddha’s awakening. Even the prophet Mohammad once mused that the fig had come directly from Paradise. In Ancient Greece, figs were given as prizes to Olympic winners, and in Rome, they were eaten by those laid low by sickness or used as political pawns.
Cato The Elder
Cato The Elder had a lifelong hatred of the city of Carthage. When he was young, the Carthaginian Hannibal Barca invaded the Italian peninsula and nearly conquered Rome. They were beaten back across the Mediterranean and many believed them to be vanquished. As the years passed, the memory of the Second Punic War faded, and the youngsters of the Roman Senate came to think of Carthage as a fallen power far across the sea, too distant to pose any real threat. But Cato remembered. He spent his last years trying to convince his fellow senators of the danger lurking on the coast of North Africa. He finished every speech with the call to arms Carthago delenda est! (Carthage must be destroyed!).
But it fell on deaf ears. Then, one day, Cato bought some figs, tucked them into his toga, and casually dropped a few on the floor during a speech in the senate. The other senators marveled at how fresh and ripe the figs were, and Cato laughed, triumphant. He pointed out that these figs were fresh and picked only a few days before on the Carthaginian coast. Thus, if figs can reach Rome in a few days, so can the Carthaginian army. Not long after that, Rome fell upon Carthage in the Third Punic War, this time following Cato’s call to action, and destroyed the city entirely.
By the medieval era, figs had lost their religious and political power. Still, they remained a much-beloved fruit, especially in Northern Europe. Once dried, they kept for months and could be transported thousands of miles. Then, turning them into the most delicious dishes. Such as our poorly named Rapey.
The Rapey Recipe:
- 1 cup (150 g) stemmed and seeded, finely chopped figs
- 1 cup (160 g) dark raisins
- 1¼ cups (295 ml) light red wine
- Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 tablespoon rice flour
- Pinch of sea salt
- ½ teaspoon sandalwood powder
- Soak the figs and raisins in cold water for 30 minutes, then drain them and put them in a small saucepan. Add the red wine, pepper, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Mix until combined, then cover the pot and bring to a light boil over medium-high heat for 10 minutes.
- Once boiled, pour the Rapey into a blender and blend until smooth. There should be very little liquid remaining. Return the mixture to the saucepan. Mix in the rice flour, salt, and sandalwood powder. Then place it on the stove. Heat over low heat for 5 minutes or until any moisture has steamed off and the Rapey is thickened. Then, serve it on bread or with cheese. It goes particularly well with the Tart de Bry.
Sandalwood powder is not easy to find and does not affect the taste. However, it had a use in coloring the dish. In some Rapey recipes, it adds a vibrant red color. Significantly, this recipe is made with figs, raisins, and red wine. The effect is minimal, so feel free to leave it out.