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Who Gives a Fig?

Fresh figs straight from the tree

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For the first 22 years of my life, the only figs I had ever eaten came in the form of Fig Newtons. I don’t have any particular beef with Fig Newtons, but I will tell you this: when I landed in California and finally had a real, fresh fig, it redefined the fruit for me. When they’re good and ripe, fresh figs become impossibly weighty with their lusty sugary juice, their fragile skin barely able to contain the jewel-like flesh inside. They’re perfect and need no adulteration; whenever I buy them, I end up eating them all before I can even think about cooking with them.   

Fig trees do fairly well in the Northern California climate (which is often likened to that of the Mediterranean) and my friend Sue has a huge specimen in her back yard. The other day she let me pick some, and I came away with a good haul. With such a bounty, I decided to do more than just eat them raw.

Sue likes to sun-dry her figs, saying that it concentrates the sweetness and improves the flavor. And of course, it extends their shelf life considerably. I don’t have outdoor space at my apartment, so I halved the figs and baked them in a 200F oven for four hours or so. I’m thinking these will be good chopped and mixed into granola or oatmeal…or infused into vodka!

I also decided to make a fig chutney. I started by sauteing shallots in some butter, and then deglazed with some cacao-infused vincotto (a syrup made from grape must) as well as some brandy. I added the figs, a few spoonfuls of honey, and a splash of water. The mixture cooked down and thickened into a lovely jammy consistency. I tried it out on a crostini with fresh goat cheese and really liked the interplay of sweet and tangy.

Unfortunately, I realized too late that I didn’t set any aside for snacking on raw! Maybe I’ll have to return to Sue’s for a second harvest…

What are your favorite local fruits? And what do you do with them?


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  • dodey | 10/20/2009

    I have used "Latarula" or the Italian honey Fig from my tree here on the south coast of British Columbia. The first crop will ripen in August, and if we have a warm Fall, will get a second crop in September, or early October.
    I split the fig in half lengthwise, put a mixture of brown sugar, butter and cinnamon over the cut surfaces, and put the figs under the broiler just till the sugar etc bubbles.
    Serve with ice cream or whipped cream. Yum!

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