It doesn’t get simpler than this: halved ripe
cheese topped with a bit of blue cheese or
chèvre. Photo courtesy Castello USA.
We were surprised not too long ago when a friend mentioned she liked figs, but had only eaten figs in their dried form. Why, we asked, since they are easily available?
“I didn’t know what to do with them,” she replied.
Today’s first tip: Never let unfamiliarity stop you from trying a new food. Buy it, bring it home, look it up.
A sweet, soft and moist tree-ripened fig is luscious, eaten plain, with cheese or yogurt, or in many recipes. Just as with, say, fresh versus dried mango, it’s a completely different experience.
And the season is now: In the U.S., figs have two seasons: a short season in early summer and a main crop that starts in late summer and runs through fall.
Fresh figs are fragile and don’t travel well: The think skins easily split and the flesh can bruise. This makes fresh figs even more of a treat, worth seeking out.
THE HISTORY OF FIGS
Man has been cultivating figs for more than 11,400 years. It is now believed to be the first food cultivated by man, in the Near East* some 11,400 years ago. This is roughly 1,000 years before the other “earliest crops,” barley, legumes and wheat were domesticated in the region. [Source]
Domestication of crops was a tipping point in the evolution of human thinking after 2.5 million years as nomadic hunter-gatherers: the decision to settle down and grow their own food rather than relying on finding food that was growing wild.
*According to National Geographic, the terms Near East and Middle East are synonymous. Afghanistan, Armenia, Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, the Gaza Strip, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the West Bank, and Yemen are included in the definition. According to Wikipedia, different bodies—Encyclopedia Britannica and the United Nations, for example—may exclude some countries and add others. [Source]
The fig is a member of the Moraceae binomial family, sometimes called the fig family. It’s the family member that’s most familiar to us: Other members include the banyan, breadfruit, mulberry and Osage orange (which not an orange).
There are almost 200 cultivars of figs, in a wide range of shapes, colors and textures. While most of think of figs as having skins that are brown, green, red or purple, take a look at the lovely yellow Tiger Stripe Fig.
Figs are now grown in warm, dry and sunny climates in around the globe (fig trees can’t tolerate temperatures below 20°F).
The top 10 fig producing countries are, by crop size, Turkey, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Iran, Syria, United States, Brazil, Albania and Tunisia.
HOW TO ENJOY FRESH FIGS
Since figs are sweet, we think of them in the context of desserts or sweet snacks. But sweetness is also an excellent counterpoint to bitter, salty and spicy/hot foods.
Eat up: Figs are among the richest plant sources of calcium and fiber. They are rich in calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and vitamins B6 and K, and are a good source of flavonoids and polyphenols (antioxidants). They are sodium-free and cholesterol/fat-free.
Don’t peel the figs. Enjoy them with breakfast cereal, yogurt or cottage cheese; sliced on sandwiches with fresh or aged cheese; chopped and added to rice; stuffed with cream cheese or goat cheese as an hors d’oeuvre; or raw or grilled as a side dish, cut in half and served with grilled meat or poultry.
Figs For Breakfast
With yogurt or cottage cheese.
With pancakes, instead of berries.
On cereal, hot or cold.
Sliced as an omelet filling, with cream cheese or goat cheese.
In muffins and breakfast pastries.
Fresh figs with a sweet mascarpone dip; figs dipped into chocolate fondue. Photo courtesy California Figs.
Figs For Lunch
On panini with fig jam (recipe—add sliced figs atop the jam; use orange marmalade if you don’t have fig jam).
Cheese Soufflé With Figs (here’s a recipe with blue cheese but you can substitute fresh goat cheese).
Bacon or prosciutto-wrapped figs.
Brie & Fig Torte (recipe).
Endive Salad With Figs (recipe).
Figs In Prosciutto Bundles (recipe).
Fig & Radicchio Salad (recipe.)
Figs In Appetizers, Hors D’oeuvre And Salads
Cocktails With Figs
Fig & Maple Fizz (recipe).
Give A Fig Cocktail (recipe).
Fig-infused vodka (Fig Infused Vodka).
Honey Balsamic Fig-Glazed Ham (recipe).
Bison With Fig Balsamic Reduction (recipe).
Pork Loin With Fig & Port Sauce (recipe).
Dinner Courses With Figs
Desserts With Figs
Bonbons dipped in chocolate (like these from John & Kira’s).
Cheese plate with fresh figs.
Fig Flower With Honey Goat Cheese (recipe).
Fig Fondue, quartered and dipped into your favorite chocolate or white chocolate fondue recipe.
Ice cream—we love this recipe from Charlie Trotter, but you can simply dice the figs, marinate them in brandy or Grand Marnier, and add them to softened vanilla ice cream before returning to the freezer. It’s a riff on rum raisin.
Roast Figs With Honey & Hazelnuts (recipe).
TOO MANY FIGS?
If you have too many ripe figs, you can place them on paper towels, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate them for a few days. Or, place them in a freezer bag and freeze for up to six months.
Or, purée the ripe figs and use the purée in cocktails (mixed with white spirits, for example), smoothies, or as a topper for ice cream or sorbet (add sweetener as necessary).