Figs have been around for a while: in myths, in legends, in history, in religion, and on the plate. Figs first appeared in Asia Minor. Doing the future a favor, the Greeks and Romans carried them through the Mediterranean. In the sixteenth century, Franciscan missionaries brought figs to southern California. From those roots, we pluck the Black Mission fig. Figs are mentioned on Sumerian tablets ca. 2500 BCE, and remains of fig trees are found in 5000 BCE Neolithic sites. Garden of Eden? The fruit isn’t specified, but apples aren’t rife in the region. Figs, whose leaves appear in art as post-awakening minimalist attire for Adam and Eve, are likelier choices for forbidden fruit.
Figs are a pleasure you should not forbid yourself. Don’t write them off as common, and don’t limit yourself to dried figs. There’s more to the fresh fruit than you know.
Start with varietals. With its dark purple skin, the Black Mission fig is a common sight. On the outside, they’re a purple dark enough to pass for black. You can enjoy any fig out of hand, but Black Mission figs are standouts stuffed with goat’s milk cheese. For a cold-weather appetizer, run your cheesy figs under the grill.
Similar in shape to Black Missions, Brown Turkey figs are subtler and less brazenly sweet. Use them in salads, slice them over Greek yogurt with maple syrup or honey, or use them to add texture and that nutty figgy flavor to Morning Glory muffins.
As green as ripe watermelons, Calimyrna figs are another familiar sight. These figs, which harken from Turkey, are meaty red on the inside. Calimyrna have a nutty flavor that makes them great for cheese and charcuterie boards. Chop them, toss them with walnuts, and add them to yeast dough for a marvelous breakfast bread. No jam needed: just heat and honey; or brown sugar, cinnamon, and a grill.
Adriatic figs are periwinkle green. When you cut them, that spring hue makes a startling contrast with the garnet-bright flesh. Almost candy-sweet, Adriatic figs make fabulous fig pastes.
If you’re lucky enough to find an O’Rourke (brown and green outside; pale yellow and salmon-pink in), then you’re in for a treat. A “brown sugar fig” (the variety gets its name by tasting like brown sugar), the O’Rourke is meaty and sweeter than Adriatics.
If honey’s your passion, keep your eye out for the Alma. These small golden fruits have a taste that could bewilder bees. This is a young fig, put in the market by Texas A&M.
The best way to get fresh figs is to grow them. While they like mild climates, you can get fruit from a fig in a window-side pot in Brooklyn or a handkerchief garden in Seattle. For those of us who lack the space or time, or whose thumbs are more grey than green, the only choice is the market.
Don’t squeeze figs to test for ripeness. The fruit is delicate and easily damaged. The Platonic ideal of a fig is full, plump, and weighty for its size, but a fig that’s a bit on the wrinkled side is just as delicious as one that’s visually perfect. As with any fruit, anything that feels limp, soggy, or moldy should not come home with you.
Figs are for enjoying, not for storing. Eat them while they’re fresh. If you want to keep them, then think about preservation: jams, pickles, liquor. If you have figs on the edge of turning, then this infusion will preserve the season in spirited style:
- Quarter your leftover or edge-of-overripe figs, and spread them on a silicone sheet or lightly oiled baking pan.
- Break a cinnamon stick into small pieces and scatter it across the figs.
- Drizzle the figs and cinnamon with honey, and roast at 325 for 10 minutes, or until the figs and glaze are warm.
- Allow to cool.
- Put the roasted figs, honey, and cinnamon into a food-safe container. Pour a bottle of bourbon over them. Cover the container, and mark it with “fig bourbon” and the date.
- How long it will take to infuse depends on how many figs you resisted eating. Start tasting after two days. When the bourbon smells like boozy fig pie and tastes as sweet as you want it, strain it through a fine mesh sieve and then a coffee filter.
Use it to make a fig Old Fashioned: a bar-spoon of honey syrup (1:1 honey and warm water), a dash of Angostura bitters, and two ounces of fig-infused bourbon. Build it in a rocks glass with ice, stir, and serve it with a lemon and orange twist. If you like creamy drinks, then make a dark Peach Blow Fizz variation, swapping figs for strawberries and fig-infused bourbon for gin.
If you’d rather have your figs and eat them, too, then there are plenty of ways to do that. Just remember to save enough to use in the kitchen. When a perfect fig’s in hand, it’s awfully easy to give in to temptation. Restraint will bring fig-sweet rewards to breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
With brown sugar and fresh fig paste, these oatmeal fig bars have a dark caramel richness that’s hard to resist. If you’ve found Adriatic figs, then here’s a prime place to use them. Enjoy the first bar hot from the oven, with a side of tart vanilla yogurt. Sprinkle the yogurt with freshly grated nutmeg, and boost the warm flavors. Bliss. Get the recipe.
This fig Dutch Baby is a one-pan pleasure. Whisk, dump, top with figs, and stick it in the oven. The baking time is 30 minutes: just long enough to wrap yourself around a cappuccino and get ready for hot figs. Get the recipe.
It doesn’t need to be Christmas for you to have figgy pudding on the table. Chef Nathan Richard’s gloriously over-the-top recipe is a figgy bread pudding with drunken fig preserves and eggnog ice cream. After this, you might want to consider training for triathlons—if only so you’ll have an excuse to eat more figgy pudding. Get the recipe.
Sweet, savory, and seductive, these stuffed figs have a spark of black pepper and a drizzle of date honey. Make a few trays for finger food at a cocktail party, or plate them prettily for an elegant sit-down dinner. Get the recipe.
Everything’s better with chocolate. That includes this vivid, fresh fig ice cream with chocolate flecks. There’s tartness from lemon zest and juice, and rich sweetness from a touch of dark brown or Muscovado sugar. Do use good chocolate; it will make all the difference. Get the recipe.
Find space for figs in your entrees. This easy pork recipe takes hard cider, mustard, rosemary, and fresh figs, and transforms pork medallions into a memorable meal. Get the recipe.
Step aside, pineapple. Caramelized fig upside-down cake redefines inverted pleasure. With butter, eggs, whole milk, and sour cream, there’s no pretense in this dessert; it’s all about pleasure. Try dusting the buttered springform pan with a spoonful of flour. That will make it easier to release. Get the recipe.