Figuring Out The Fig

January 23rd, 2013

I’ve always had a fondness for figs. When I was about nine years old, my father designated one of the two fig trees he planted in our Arizona backyard as my own and I watched my sapling grow to about 12 feet tall and produce fabulous tree-ripened, green-skinned fruits whose sweetness made them seem like candy. The fact that these luscious snacks were a good source of fiber, potassium, and calcium never entered my mind.

figsWhen my family moved from that house, I lost my source of fresh figs, as they were not readily available in markets. Last year, at my Pennsylvania farm I planted three fig trees in containers, which I moved indoors for the winter. Although I was able to harvest but one fig last fall, in the decades to come, I hope to harvest enough to enjoy fresh or dried and to make into sauces and jam.

A Delicate Harvest

One of the oldest fruits known to civilization, the fig is said to have roots in Southwest Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean. Fresh ripe figs can be pale yellow, almost black, purple, green, or burgundy on the outside with amber, red, or translucent pink flesh containing tiny edible seeds. For fresh eating, there is little difference in flavor among varieties.

Figs must ripen on the tree. When finally ripe, the fruits hang downward and the skin is extremely delicate. While commercial crops grown for drying may be mechanically harvested, picking figs for the fresh-fruit market requires a gentle hand – one reason why they are expensive to buy.

When compared to other tree fruits, including peaches and apples, figs suffer from relatively few insect pests or diseases. If provided with warm, dry climates, moderate winters, and not-too-rich soil, they are among the easiest fruits to grow in the home orchard.

In cold areas like my farm, this subtropical plant is best grown in large containers and transported to a protected garage or greenhouse during the winter.

Selecting and Enjoying Figs

A ripe fig feels plump, yields easily to light pressure, and is moist inside. If hard, a fig’s flesh will taste dry instead of syrupy and sweet.

Ripe figs are perishable and must be stored with care. Arrange them slightly apart on a tray lined with paper towels and then refrigerate them uncovered for up to five days. To eat them, trim off the hard part of the stem end. Some people pull off the thin skin, others don’t.

Sweet figs draped in thinly sliced prosciutto make a sophisticated first course. They are also delicious roasted, and figs are a classic partner to dessert cheeses. Try some figs skewered and grilled or added to salads.

Fresh figs are seasonal, appearing abundantly in markets from July through November, depending on where you live. Most fig trees bear two crops, the first on the previous season’s growth and the second on current wood. While summer figs are usually larger individually, fall brings a more bountiful harvest. Enjoy the fruits fresh from the tree as I did as a child, or transform them into a delectable dessert.

 

Roasted Figs in Honey-Lime Syrup

This delicate dessert can be embellished with creme fraiche or lightly sweetened whipped cream or enjoyed simply as it is.

MARES 4 SERVINGS

12 large fresh green figs 1 large lime 1/4 cup honey 1 tablespoon unsalted butter Creme fraiche or sweetened whipped cream (optional) Lime wedges (optional)

1 Heat oven to 450 [degrees] F. Cut stems off figs and cut each fig lengthwise into quarters without cutting through bottom. Arrange figs in 9-inch pie plate or shallow baking dish.

2 With fine metal grater or citrus zester, remove green part of peel from lime and set aside. Cut lime in half and ream or squeeze to extract juice.

3 In 1-quart saucepan over low heat or microwave-safe cup in microwave oven, heat honey and butter until melted; remove from heat and stir in lime juice. Drizzle honey-lime syrup over figs.

4 Bake figs 15 minutes, basting once with syrup from dish. Sprinkle with grated lime rind. On each of 4 serving plates, arrange 3 figs and some honey-lime syrup. Serve with a dollop of creme fraiche and garnish with a lime wedge, if desired.

Nutrition information per serving without creme fraiche or lime wedge-protein: 2 g; fat: 4 g; carbohydrate: 58 g; fiber: 8 g; sodium: 4 mg; cholesterol: 8 mg; calories: 243.

Fig and Chocolate Tarriers Shown on page 143

Individual chocolate-coated pastries cradle luscious cut-and-fanned fresh green figs.

MAKES 8 TARTLETS

Tartlet Shells:

1 cup unsifted all-purpose flour 1 tablespoon sugar 6 tablespoons butter, cut into chunks 2 to 3 tablespoons cold water

Filling:

48 semisweet chocolate chips 8 large fresh green figs 2 tablespoons red-currant or strawberry jelly, melted Fresh mint sprigs (optional)

1 Prepare Tartlet Shells: In food processor fitted with chopping blade, process flour, sugar, and butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle in water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and pulse until pastry is moist enough to hold together when gathered into a ball. Press pastry into a ball; divide into 8 pieces.

2 Heat oven to 375 [degrees] F. On lightly floured surface, roll out each pastry piece to St into 3 1/2- by 2-inch oval tartlet pan. Trim off excess pastry. Place tartlet shells on rimmed baking pan. With fork, pierce pastry all over.

3 Bake shells 15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and immediately place 6 chocolate chips in bottom; let stand 1 minute, then with butter knife spread melted chocolate to coat bottom of each shell. Set shells aside to cool.

4 Just before serving, prepare Filling: Cut stem end off each fig and cut each fig lengthwise into 4 or 5 slices without cutting all the way through. Remove shells from pans and arrange on serving plate. Place one fig in each shell; fan the slices and brush with melted jelly. Garnish plate with mint sprigs, if desired.

Nutrition information per tarrier without mint – protein: 2 g; fat: 10 g; carbohydrate: 30 g; fiber: 3 g; sodium: 90 mg; cholesterol: 23 mg; calories: 208.

Fresh Fig Cake Shown on page 142

Flavored with cinnamon, studded with figs, and served warm from the oven, this moist cake is enticing for dessert or for breakfast when served with coffee or tea.

MAKES 8 SERVINGS

2/3 cup sugar 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened 1/4 cup vanilla nonfat yogurt 2 large eggs 1 cup unsifted all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 12 large fresh purple figs

1 Heat oven to 350 [degrees] F. Lightly butter or coat 9-inch springform pan with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.

2 In large bowl, with electric mixer on medium speed, beat sugar and butter until well mixed. Beat in yogurt and eggs until blended. Reduce mixer speed to low and gradually beat in flour, baking powder, and cinnamon.

3 Spread batter into greased pan. Cut stem end off each fig and cut each fig lengthwise in half. Arrange figs, alternating cut surfaces and skin sides up, around rim of pan on top of batter. Arrange remaining figs in center of cake batter.

4 Bake 40 minutes or until toothpick inserted in cake near center comes out clean. Cool cake in pan on wire rack to lukewarm. Loosen side of pan from cake and remove pan rim. Place cake on serving plate and serve warm.

Nutrition information per serving-protein: 4 g; fat: 7 g; carbohydrate: 48 g; fiber: 4 g; sodium: 118 mg; cholesterol: 69 mg; calories: 268.

 

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