By Dawn M. Swidorski
The fig or Ficus carica is a member of the mulberry family. The fig is commonly thought of as fruit, but it is actually the inverted flower of the fig tree. Figs are the only fruit to fully ripen and semi-dry on the tree. Their origin is in what is now the Middle East. Figs were probably one of the first foods that were cultivated perhaps as early as 4000 BC. In fact, it was likely the fig (and not the apple) caused all of the problems in the Garden of Eden. They are certainly the most commonly referred to food in the bible.
There are hundreds of varieties of figs but the best known are calimyrna, black mission and brown Turkey. The first figs were brought to California by Spanish missionaries in the mid-1700’s (Black Mission Figs of course!) and were planted at every mission they settled throughout the state. Calimyrna figs were brought in the 1800’s so cultivation wise the history in the US is short one. Figs have an unusual method of propagation that involves a small wasp and their cultivation has been limited by the availability of these wasps to propagate the fruit.
Figs are lusciously sweet and have a texture that features the chewiness of their flesh, the smoothness of their skin, and the crunchiness of their seeds. Figs have one of the most complex flavors of all the fruits. As one of nature’s sweetest fruits, figs were used as sweetener before the development of refined sugars.
Because of their short harvest season fresh figs are only available for a very short time each year in early June for about two weeks and then the late summer and early Fall. But dried figs are available year round.
Figs can be eaten fresh, cooked or dried, and are also used in jam-making. Most commercial production is in dried or otherwise processed forms, since the ripe fruit does not transport well, and once picked does not keep well.
Figs can be used in every course from appetizer to dessert and are incredibly versatile. I love fresh figs grilled or stuffed with blue cheese, goat cheese, or brie and baked until the cheese is melted and the figs are warm. But here are a couple of recipes courtesy of the California Fig Advisory Board:
This one is perfect for any fall harvest menu. In addition to being great for any fall menu it’s loaded with whole grains!