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In Season: Figs

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Written by Sophia Markoulakis   
Sunday, 11 October 2009

ImageFigs are sexy. Actually figs are sex. Well, that is, according to Bunny Crumpacker's The Sex Life of Food: When Body and Soul Meet to Eat, who cites several fig euphemisms from different cultures. From the infamous fig leaf to Hindu and Arabic slang for the word, the fig is enveloped in sexual connotations. Cut a fig open and you'll see what I mean. Better yet, peel away the skin, from its stem end down to its base, take a big bite of its candy-sweet flesh and you get an instant rush of syrupy goodness.

See Sophia's picks of great fig recipes for Appetizers & Salads| Main Courses| Desserts

But this sexual reference doesn't end with the fruit. It actually starts with the tree, which is capable of being bisexual, producing both male and female flowers.  Unlike traditional fruit tree blossoms, the fig blossom develops from the outside in, enticing the tiny fig wasp to enter an opening at the base of each developing flower where either the male or female wasp wait for a mate to "pollinate" it and the flower. That's right, the inside of a developing fig is a love den for the fig wasp. These tiny, ant-size wasps are so important to the survival of the fig tree that one cannot co-exist with the other. In fact, each of the 900 or more species of fig wasp is perfectly paired with a unique species of fig tree.

But all of this business is long over by the time a fig has reached full maturity and is ready for harvest. If you happen to own a fig tree, then you know it's a mad competition between you and the birds. Even shopping for figs can be more a matter of strategy and luck since fig season is now and ending soon. In California, the Black Mission fig rules, but the yellowish green Kadota is also a favorite for its more delicate, floral flavor. Don't be surprised if you spy an unknown variety of fig in your area since there are hundreds of species, although most are not viable for commercial trade.

Since figs are highly perishable, they should be enjoyed immediately. All varieties should be treated the same from the time the come home to the recipes that you select. For storage and safe keeping:

  • *Examine figs as soon as you bring them home. Separate over-ripe specimens and use immediately or discard.
  • *Remove from basket and place, single layer, in a storage container, seal, and refrigerate for up to one week.

One of the first things you can do after inspecting your fig stash is to make a quick batch of fig jam with the ripe, bruised, or soft ones that need to be used immediately. September's issue of Food and Wine Magazine has a very simple refrigerator jam recipe that takes about 30 minutes and can simmer away while you prepare your other figs for storage.


Fig Jam

(Food & Wine, September, 2009)

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Fresh figs can be frozen, but their texture will change and become softer regardless of whether they are frozen whole or in half. To freeze, wash and dry completely. Place on a cookie sheet and freeze until solid. Remove from sheet and store in a freezer bag and use within 6 months. Don't stress about freezing them if you don't have enough; dried figs make a great substitution for fresh figs in most slow-cooked recipes.

Even though fresh figs taste decadently sweet, they actually fall mid-range on the glycemic index and are full of fiber and moderate amounts of vitamin K and potassium. Try incorporating fresh figs into salad recipes, swapping out other fruit such as strawberries or plums for an autumn-like side dish. Figs also pair great with full-fat foods such as a double or triple cream cheese or veined cheese like Gorgonzola. Topping vanilla ice cream with sliced fresh figs and a shot of port or other fortified wine or liqueur is a simple and delicious ending to a fall meal.

Incorporating figs into recipes

This month's round of recipes really allows the fig to shine. Any heat applied to this luscious fruit just makes it all the more sweet and delicious.

Appetizers and Salads

Figs, Almonds, Greens and Cabrales Cheese from Joyce Goldstein's Mediterranean Fresh is a simple and beautiful salad that would be delicious and palate-cleansing, served after a rich, stewed dish.


Figs, Almonds, Greens and Cabrales Cheese

(Mediterranean Fresh by Joyce Goldstein, 2008)

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Provence-Style Pearl Couscous with Figs from Vegetarian Times pairs this popular Israeli couscous with figs. Serve as part of a light lunch.

Provence-Style Pearl Couscous With Figs

(Vegetarian Times, September, 2004)

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Warm Salad of Grilled Figs, Grapes, and Bitter Greens from Cooking Light shows great contrast between sweet figs and bitter endive and radicchio. This salad would be another great ending to a fall meal.

Warm Salad of Grilled Figs, Grapes, and Bitter Greens

(Cooking Light, August, 2004)

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Figs and Prosciutto with Mint and Shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano from Cooking Light is a classic sweet and salty first course that stimulates the taste buds for the remaining meal.

Figs and Prosciutto with Mint and Shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano

(Cooking Light, August, 2006)

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Main Dishes

Braised Chicken Thighs with Figs and Bay Leaves from Cooking Light has herbaceous notes from the bay leaves, which tempers the sweetness of the figs.


Braised Chicken Thighs with Figs and Bay Leaves

(Cooking Light, August, 2000)

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Egg Fettuccine with Figs, Rosemary, and Pancetta from Gourmet takes pasta and figs, two ingredients that you wouldn't think would go together, and creates a delicious and quick weeknight dish.

Egg Fettuccine With Figs, Rosemary, And Pancetta

(Gourmet, August, 2001)

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Lamb Chops with Fresh Herbs and Roasted Figs from Bon Appetit takes two full-flavored foods and blends them beautifully in a special dish.

Lamb Chops With Fresh Herbs And Roasted Figs

(Bon Appétit, September, 2009)

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Pork Cutlets with Figs and Balsamic Vinegar from Bon Appetit would be a great dish for guests who aren't familiar with fruit being incorporated into a main dish.

Pork Cutlets With Figs And Balsamic Vinegar

(Bon Appétit, October, 1998)

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Desserts

Panna Cotta with Figs from Martha Stewart is a great make-ahead dessert that will impress guests with simple components that come together beautifully.


Panna Cotta With Figs

(Martha Stewart Living, October, 2000)

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Fresh Figs with Goat Cheese and Peppered Honey from Bon Appetit demonstrates how an amazing recipe can be made with only four ingredients.

Fresh Figs with Goat Cheese and Peppered Honey

(Bon Appétit, August, 2006)

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Soy Milk-Arborio Rice Pudding with Poached Figs from Food and Wine could actually be enjoyed as dessert or breakfast.

Soy Milk–arborio Rice Pudding With Poached Figs

(Food & Wine, October, 2009)

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Hazelnut-Brown Butter Cakes with Figs from Sunset make great use of the often under-utilized muffin pan. Serve with a favorite vanilla ice cream.

Hazelnut-Brown Butter Cakes with Figs

(Sunset, September, 2002)

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