The Common Fig ~ An Ancient Fruit

The fluctuation in the temperatures this past winter and spring wreaked havoc on my perennial beds. However, for the first year since I have moved to the shore, my ‘Kadota’ fig tree is producing prolifically. Never have I harvested so many figs ~ the deer and birds usually beat me to the punch.

The common fig, Ficus carica is native to the Mediterranean and the Middle East; in fact, remnants of figs have reportedly been found in Neolithic excavation sites dating back to 5000 B.C. There are also numerous references to figs in the Bible ~ wasn’t it fig leaves that Adam and Eve used to create ‘clothing’ in the Garden of Eden when they discovered that they were naked?! Spanish missionaries introduced the plant to the New World and it is now known as the California mission fig; 99% of all commercially grown figs in the United States are produced in California.

The ‘Kadota’ species that I have in my garden produces a greenish-yellow thick-skinned fruit with pinkish flesh on a beautiful, large leafed tree. Most fig trees in my agricultural zone 7 need a long, hot summer to produce; why mine had so much fruit early is a mystery to me.  The spicy, floral, honey-like sweet fruit produces a sticky, white sap that can be irritating to the skin but it is not poisonous. Once a fig is plucked from the tree, it will not ripen any further so be sure they yield slightly to pressure when checking for ripeness. A ripe fig has a very high metabolic rate and a high water content so it will rot faster than most fruits. Figs contain large amounts of phenol compounds which are potent anti-oxidants, and high calcium and potassium levels as well. And a surprising fact, some varieties actually contain the highest level of sugar than any other common fruit.

I have shared my fig tree with many friends. The branches of the ‘Kadota’ tree easily propagate from dormant cuttings but must be nursed to a bud state before planting in a sunny, southern exposure. The tree likes a generous bi-weekly watering when it first goes in the ground, then it will quickly grow to maturity.  They bear fruit on new wood so they like to be pruned to stimulate growth for the next year’s crop. Sadly, the gorgeous leaves are not suitable for floral design as they wilt too quickly.

Foie gras, is a French dish made from hypertrophied livers of geese that are typically force-fed with figs. Some consider this dish a delicacy. I personally do not care for it; we prepared it at the Culinary Institute and it was hideously rich and greasy. A wonderful recipe that doesn’t call for animal cruelty is fig jam. I just canned several pints from my harvest and will share (maybe) as gifts. It is out-of-this-world sweet.

 

Ali’s Fig Jam

Ingredients:

  • 5 lbs. fresh ripe figs, rinsed with stems removed
  • 5 cups white sugar
  • Juice of 1 large lemon
  • ½ t. vanilla extract

Preparation:

  1. Coarsely chop figs. Add them to a large enamel or stainless steel pot.
  2. Add the sugar then toss to combine.
  3. Cover, refrigerate overnight. The fig will release its own juices.
  4. The next day, bring the figs to a gentle boil over low heat.
  5. Stir frequently to dissolve sugar and prevent scorching of the pan.
  6. Once boiling, raise the heat to medium, smash figs with a potato masher; cook until jam thickens and slowly drips from a spoon.
  7. Add lemon juice and vanilla. Stir to combine and cook one minute longer.

 

At this point, I continue on with the water bath process of canning. Spoon jam into sterilized ½ pint jars and process for 15 minutes. Makes 10 half-pints that will keep for six months. If you do not wish to process your jam, store in an air-tight container for up to one month in the refrigerator. Do not let it spoil ~ it is too wonderful to waste!

My favorite way to serve this marvelous concoction is on a thinly sliced baguette that I have spread with goat cheese and topped with the jam. Always a big hit! Enjoy your jam as a condiment on sandwiches or serve as a sweet complement to sharp cheese. Spread cut figs on pizza as a topping. Another easy, super-duper appetizer is goat cheese-stuffed figs. You can purchase herbed goat cheese instead of making your own (not the cheese silly, the addition of the herbs). Not only could you serve this as a first course but it could also be a dessert when drizzled with honey instead of oil!

Ali’s Goat Cheese-Stuffed Figs

Ingredients:

  • 8 ripe fresh figs, rinsed
  • ½ lb. store-bought herbed goat cheese
  • 2 T. sour cream*
  • Olive oil
  • Pink salt** and fresh ground pepper to taste
  • Fresh herbs such as tarragon, chives, parsley or dill

Preparation:

  1. Cut figs in half, leaving stem for presentation.
  2. Thin the cheese with sour cream to a spreadable consistency.
  3. Slather a heaping tablespoon of cheese onto the top of each fig, pressing slightly so that the cheese adheres.
  4. Plate; drizzle with a little olive oil.
  5. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Garnish with fresh chopped herbs of choice.

Figs may be refrigerated up to one hour before garnishing and serving. Makes 4-8 servings.

*You may substitute milk or plain yogurt to thin the goat cheese. I use sour cream for the bite plus I can eat sour cream by the spoonful.

**Taste the goat cheese first as sometimes it can be very salty. I use slightly crushed pink Himalayan coarse salt for presentation since the center of the figs I grow are pink but you can substitute any salt.

 

Finally, my husband and I love lamb. My rack of lamb or grilled lamb loin roast is one of our favorite go-to recipes. My dear friend Ellen gave me a cookbook last Christmas titled “Edible ~ a Celebration of Local Foods”. My fig sauce recipe is adapted from a recipe in this book and served with sliced lamb loin. You could use this as an accompaniment to any lamb or pork cut.

Ali’s Fig Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1 t. canola oil
  • 1 large shallot, chopped
  • 1 ½ c. chicken stock
  • 1 c. Grand Marnier liqueur
  • 1 c. fresh figs, chopped
  • 1 T. light brown sugar
  • 1 t. fresh rosemary, chopped and extra sprigs for garnish
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper

Preparation:

  1. While meat is cooking, heat the oil in a non-reactive medium saucepan.
  2. Add shallot and cook 1-2 minutes.
  3. Add chicken stock, Grand Marnier, figs, sugar, salt and pepper. Stir well and bring to a boil.
  4. Reduce heat and simmer until figs are soft, about 20 minutes.
  5. When slightly cooled, transfer mixture to a food processor and process until figs start to make a purée. Add a bit more stock if mixture seems too thick.
  6. This sauce will be slightly chunky. If a thin sauce is desired, press figs through a fine mesh strainer and discard solids.
  7. Spoon sauce over sliced meat and garnish with a sprig of fresh rosemary.

I am a big fan of canning my fresh produce as it can be difficult to find certain ingredients year round. I have never canned this sauce but I may try it as I believe it would be lovely to serve with lamb on Christmas Day, which also happens to be my husband’s birthday. Otherwise, I’ll have to hunt for fresh figs.

Bon appétit!

ALI

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6 comments

  1. Miriam Zijp-Koedijk · · Reply

    Great blog; very informative. Surprised you still had to use so much sugar in the fig jam, as the fruit is so sweet. Fishing for a taste? I have very fond memories of the CIA advanced boot camp course we did together and I loved the foie gras! Definitely rich!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. These figs are not terribly sweet but you can always modify sugar content to your own taste…some recipes call for even more than I use…hopefully I’ll get another harvest!

      Like

  2. Linda Easter · · Reply

    Sounds wonderful.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Margaret Ingersoll · · Reply

    Best year for figs here, too. Thanks for the recipes!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Margaret Ingersoll · · Reply

    Yummy, love figs. Can’t wait to try the fig sauce.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Patricia M Remer · · Reply

    Had your fig jam on crackers with goat cheese – a wonderful combination.

    Liked by 1 person

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