Beaucoups des Figs
This is my French way of saying we got a lot of figs this year! Now the question is what to do with them? Let me say right from the start: I love figs. I like them best right off the tree. It’s just like finding a big patch of wild blackberries. You pick one. You eat one. You pick two. You eat one. The only trouble with fresh figs is birds like them, too! They like them a lot. So it’s a race to see who can get the fresh figs first when they are tree ripe. Is it going to be me or the birds?
This year I am ahead of the birds. Maybe it’s because there are so many figs that the birds just can’t eat any more. (Bird: “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing!”) As a strategy to make sure I get my share, I have been picking them when they begin to get soft. Just on the verge of being tree ripe. I’d love to let them stay until they fall off the tree but I absolutely know those durn birds will get to them before I can so that’s my strategy. Anyhow, I’m not worried because they ripen nicely on the counter. What a treat!
We were lucky to have the mature trees on our property when we got here. They are Black Mission Figs. They are a common fig in these here parts. Fig trees are so great to have in a garden repertoire because they are tough, tough, tough. They don’t need a lot of water and are resistant to disease. However they aren’t impervious. Last year, when we weren’t looking, the feral burros stripped and ate the bark off the lower trunk of one of the two trees we have.
I’m sorry to say that the part above the bare trunk is slowly expiring. However, the tree still leafed out and bears a lot of fruit. I’m happy to see that new shoots are growing from below the stripped section. The Force is strong in this one! So if the upper part does eventually croak, the root stock will grow a new tree around the failed one. Aren’t they amazing? Now we’re keeping those feral burros far, far away!
Go ahead! Eat them whole right off the tree. Hike your skirts up like an Italian farm girl with her hair in a kerchief and think of Bacchus playing his Pan pipes. There’s something very lusty about eating fresh figs. Figs have a mildly sweet taste. I like them precisely because they aren’t too sweet. Eat it whole. The skin of the fig is 100-percent edible. Just twist off the stem and pop it in your mouth. If you don’t like the texture of the skin, you can peel it off, but I’d never tried it. If you do, let me know how it works!
I also like to eat figs with cheese. My first introduction to figs was by my college boyfriend. What a romantic he was! He’d bring dried figs and cream cheese over to my house and feed them to me by hand. Maybe that’s why I love figs so much. They remind me of my youth and the romance from those times. Fresh or dried figs – it doesn’t matter – are also good with blue cheese or Gorgonzola. I think that whatever dairy product you choose should be sweet and tangy rather than sharp. That is what tastes best in my humble opinion. Halve the figs, spread with cheese and pop them under the broiler for a couple minutes. You can also try mascarpone or crème fraîche. They all work well with the flavor of figs.
Poached figs are lovely and easy. You can poach them on the stove or in a slow cooker. Use roughly 2 cups liquid for every 8 figs. Try red wine or wine that has been simmered with warm spices, like cinnamon, cloves or star anise. You can also use fruit juice or flavored vinegars like balsamic vinegar. Instructions: Simmer the figs for 10 to 15 minutes on the stove or cook the figs on low for 2 hours in the slow cooker. Try poached figs on Greek yogurt or ice cream.
Fresh figs can be used in breads, cakes, muffins and other baked goods. For instance, you can add chopped figs to your favorite peach cobbler or blackberry pie recipe.
I like to save some of my bounty by drying them. The best indication that a fig is fully ripe is when it falls to the ground. They should be really soft. Pick figs that are whole and don’t have bruises or broken parts. Rinse off any dust or dirt and then pat them dry.
I used welded wire and made a covered rack. Whatever you use make sure it has plenty of ventilation holes for lots of air flow so they don’t get moldy before they’re dry. If insects are a problem, lining the rack with a layer of cheesecloth before setting the figs on top might help. You may need to cover the figs with cheesecloth, too. Tuck the cheesecloth around the drying rack, securing it if necessary to make sure it won’t come loose. One layer is enough. We don’t have insects so I just layer my figs inside my little welded wire cage.
Place the rack in full sunlight. It works best when it is very dry and hot outside. A California drought is not much good for anything except sun drying fruit or vegetables. I count my blessings! Don’t place the figs in the shade. They won’t dry as quickly and may spoil before they’ve dried all the way.
Let them go for two to three days. Each evening take them inside unless the temperature where you live does not drop more than 20 degrees at night. In the morning, turn the figs over so they dry evenly on all sides. The figs are ready when the outside feels leathery and no juice can be seen on the inside when squeezed. Squeeze one. Then eat it. When they’re done to your satisfaction store them in a cool, dry place.