Figs Are a Fleeting, Old-World Treat
June 1998 -- Its a fruit thats revered among the food cognoscenti and among Old World Italian, Mediterranean types. But Americans have not really embraced it," says cookbook author and culinary arts teacher Robert Wemischner, speaking of the fig.
In the United States, figs are common in dried form, but rarely seen in their fresh state. Their extreme perishability and relatively short harvest season have limited their marketability, placing them in that category of ultra-fragile fruit that youll have a better chance of finding at a farmers market than in a supermarket.
Wemischner, who shops regularly at farmers markets in Los Angeles, where he lives, and also keeps in touch with figs through a highly productive tree in his backyard, says he starts seeing them in the market toward the end of July. Their harvest window stays open through September.
"Theyre never in great supply. For most growers, they seem to have a few trees as a sideline to their normal business," says Wemischner. But the fact that they are a fleeting, seasonal treat increases their appeal, says Wemischner.
Theyre best eaten "with the sun still on them," fresh off the tree, within a day or two of being picked, never having seen the inside of a refrigerator. Those that arent consumed right away should be stored in a single layer, without touching each other.
They should be as full to the touch as a water balloon, says Wemischner, but they shouldnt cross that fine line that separates fully ripe figs from those that have started fermenting.
The most common traditional use for fresh figs is in pastries and tart, chutneys, jams and conserves. But Wemischner, whose first book was The Vivid Flavors Cookbook : International Recipes from Hot & Spicy to Smoky & Sweet, likes savory uses of figs as much as the more traditional dessert treatments.
They go well with the plants that grow around them in their Mediterranean homelands, such as Mediterranean herbs and olive oil, as well as salty cheese, such as feta, and prosciutto ham. Figs also pair well with hot peppers, as in a hot pepper-fig catsup with vinegar and brown sugar.
Four Ways to Prepare Figs
Wemischner offers four other more unconventional suggestions for using fresh figs.
Copyright 2005 Seasonal Chef