Have you ever feasted upon a fresh fig? Those that have partaken develop an almost cult-like adoration for them. I must confess that I never tasted a fresh fig until I picked the first one from our own tree a year or so ago. A fresh, ripe fig tastes nothing like a Fig Newton, so banish that thought from your mind. The fig’s flavor is reminiscent of strawberry and peach, but with a unique and delicate texture all its own. The fruit is actually an inverted flower. Isn’t that kind of sexy and exotic? The leaves of the fig tree are quite beautiful, too, making it a lovely addition to the landscape as well as the table. Fig trees impart an almost-haunting, herbaceous scent to the garden air during our sultry summer evenings. Fig trees inspire a sort of reverence, and the fig is actually important in every major religion.
Figs in the Garden
Fig trees are a great investment. I bought our tree a couple of years ago for $17. This year, I will harvest at least 50 pounds of figs, and with the price of organic figs running at $8-9 a pound, that’s a better return than Wall Street–at least the way I do math. My fig tree will likely be around long after I am gone, an organic inheritance for my girls.
Figs trees like to be planted with plenty of organic matter and in lots of sunshine. Make sure your fig tree gets watered regularly, especially in its first couple of seasons, and protect it from heavy frosts. Simple! There are many varieties of fig–early and late producing, the ripe fruits can range in color from a deep, rich purple to a vibrant green with purple striations. Our Alma fig tree is in its second year of production. Alma is a late-ripening fig that produces very high quality fruit. One of the reasons we selected Alma is because the fruit is a light golden-green color when it is ripe, which fools the hungry birds that search for deeper, darker-colored fruits. Birds adore figs, and bird netting can be thrown over the tree to help protect the fruit, but we just let them have their fill. There is enough fruit to share with nature, and we don’t want Angry Birds around here!
Figs on the Table
Even though figs are sweet, they are quite nutritious. High in potassium, they can help to lower blood pressure. They are high in fiber and calcium as well, making them a satisfying treat for those of us watching our weight. Fig leaves are edible, too, and are said to have anti-diabetic qualities. Try wrapping a fresh fish fillet in a rinsed fig leaf and placing it on a hot grill until the fish is almost cooked through. The fig leaves will help the fish stay moist and impart an herbal essence to the fish.
I am really looking forward to experimenting with fresh figs in the kitchen, if I can stop myself from making them as wonderful little appetizers. We love them halved and topped with a little goat cheese and wrapped up in a slice of prosciutto. Warm these pretty little delights in the oven until the prosciutto is a little crispy and the goat cheese is melted. Top with a splash of balsamic fig vinegar and fresh ground pepper. I love the blend of the sweet ripe fruit, the salty prosciutto and the creamy goat cheese. And last night we made rib-eye and fig kabobs with red onion and goat cheese. Served over jasmine rice, it was a simple feast.
Now that the fig season is upon us and the fruit is ripening in unison, I love to make fig preserves for us to enjoy during the winter. This Fig and Limoncello Jam is divine with pork, but I think it would also be delicious as a filling for cakes and cookies.
What are your favorite ways to enjoy figs?
Fig and Limoncello Jam
3 1/2 cups sugar
1 vanilla pod (split)
1 large organic lemon, zest, juice and meat (discard pith)
2 pounds chopped fresh organic figs
1/4 cup limoncello (or substitute Grand Marnier)
In a large pot place sugar, vanilla pod and seeds, figs, and the lemon juice, zest and meat. Let the mixture sit for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to help release the fruit juices. Then simmer the mixture over low heat, stirring occasionally, so that it does not burn. Since I like my jam to be pretty smooth, rather than chunky, I carefully run an immersion blender through it at this time. Once the fruits have released their juices, raise the heat to high, stirring frequently. When the mixture hits a rolling boil, cook at a rolling boil for 15 minutes, then add the liquor and cook for one more minute, stirring constantly. Pour into hot, sterile jars and process 10 minutes.