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The Final Treat of Summer

By James Parker, August 16, 2011  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by James Parker
August brings another period of change in the business of produce. It’s really too warm (okay, hot!) just about everywhere right now. And just like that heat puts stress on people, it also puts pressure on crops. Certain plants will shut down when it gets too hot — sometimes they will even spontaneously abort their crop if the heat is putting the plant in danger. Farm worker days get shorter as it gets too hot to harvest progressively earlier in the morning and truck refrigeration units have to work harder to keep produce cool as they roll over highway pavement temperatures well in excess of 120°F in some places. Despite the challenges of the dog days, there is one more crop Mother Nature has in store for us: Figs are the final treat of summer. Figs are unique in the tree fruit world in that a single tree will have two distinct harvest periods every season. Early summer, usually around the middle of June we see the “Breeba” crop — this is fruit that emerges from the old wood on the tree. The Breeba season is short and serves more as a tantalizing preview of the larger, longer harvest of fruit from the new branches of the tree. Figs are also unusual in another respect. Most commercial fruit trees have a relatively short lifecycle — losing productivity in 20 to 25 years. A well-cared-for fig tree, on the other hand, will continue to be a prolific producer for twice that long. There are many commercial varieties of figs available but most are very difficult to transport, so the variety of figs you see at your local store or farmers market will depend on your distance from the source. The three most common varieties are the Black Mission (dark purple outside, red/brown inside), the Brown Turkey (large brown outside, red/brown inside), and the Kadota (green outside, light brown inside). Arguably the best variety (and hardest to find) is the Adriatic (green outside with a bright red interior).  Selecting figs is tactile exercise — if they are in a clamshell package you should always open it and physically inspect the fruit. Figs should be soft to the touch — fruit that is too firm was picked immature and should be avoided. Wrinkled or damaged skin is an indication the fruit is aging but if you come across fruit that has sap leaking from the blossom end, buy it without hesitation. This will be the fruit with the best flavor. Figs can be cooked or eaten raw and complement a wide range of dishes. My favorite way to serve figs is roasted on the grill. I remove about ¼ of the stem to allow steam to escape and brush some olive oil on the outside surface of the fig so it won’t stick. I then place them in indirect heat, in an out-of-the-way place on my grill and just let the moisture slowly bubble out of the fig. They look like little kettles and as they cook, the sugars will caramelize and the flavor of the fruit will really come out. I serve either over ice cream for dessert or as a complementary side to any red meat dish. Another way to serve is with one of my early season favorite fruit that is about to finish: sliced figs and apricots tossed with some crumbled gorgonzola and balsamic vinegar is about the tastiest (and prettiest) summer salads you can eat. Mostly I love figs for their history. Fresh and dried figs have been commercially cultivated for thousands of years all over the world. Fig trees in the wild grow to be giants, serving as both food and shelter for countless creatures. Figs even played a part in my own short history, being one of the first fruits I remember eating from the tree behind my great aunt Cebelle’s house in Jackson, Mississippi some 40+ years ago. As berries pass their peak and other summer fruit start to fade, figs will carry us from summer into autumn — from blistering hot to blessedly cool. A nice companion for the last few weeks of summer.

 

21 Comments

Comments

Jim says ...
I didn't eat my first fresh fig until last year... What a treat! I'm so happy to hear it is the season for them again.
08/16/2011 3:13:45 PM CDT
Niki says ...
I have never had a fresh fig. I'm going to have to pick some up soon!!
08/16/2011 7:42:29 PM CDT
Karmen says ...
I Love Figs!!! I love them so much that I made some great fig scones!!! Here is a link if you are interested in the recipe!!! www.my2sense.squarespace.com/i-love-food/2011/8/10/figgy-scones.html
08/17/2011 5:50:12 PM CDT
Elizabeth says ...
I love figs, and I carry the same memory as you in that the first fruit I ever ate off of a tree was a fig. Only this one was grew in our neighbors yard and spilled into our backyard (lucky for us). I've never bought figs that were as good as those. Even the ones I bought from Whole Foods last year were bland and flavorless (and expensive!). Your tips for choosing figs to buy are very helpful, and I'm sure I will make great use of them!
08/17/2011 5:52:31 PM CDT
Heather says ...
One of my favorite childhood memories is my Maw-Maw's fig tree. My cousins and I would pick and eat them right off the tree. But I also remember getting stung by the wasps that were always found in that tree! I'm looking forward to trying the Adriatic and Kadota Figs!
08/17/2011 6:35:07 PM CDT
Dana says ...
Figs are divine!!!
08/17/2011 8:20:28 PM CDT
Linda N says ...
When walking my dogs in San Diego, our regular route passed a fig tree. The people that lived in the house rented (I know because I almost rented this house myself just for the fig tree!) and they didn't harvest their figs. It drove me bonkers. I would pick all the good ones off the ground that I could find. My dogs got a lot of walks.
08/17/2011 9:10:33 PM CDT
Jean says ...
I would love some info about cooking with fig leaves. Are all fig leaves OK to use? (Tomato leaves are not recommended for eating- are fig leaves OK?) I think I have picked my last fig for this season-perhaps I can extend the joy if the leaves can be used. I guess mine are Brown Turkey (growing in NC) but they aren't that big.
08/17/2011 9:27:48 PM CDT
Serena says ...
My husband's work created a community garden. The company also planted some fig trees. Thankfully for us, no one has really paid attention to the fact the trees are producing fruit. My hubby brings a small basket of the dark purple-y figs and the really good green ones the article mentioned. It's a wonderful treat!
08/18/2011 2:10:24 AM CDT
Gloria says ...
I am originally from southern Spain where fig trees grow anywhere, especially in abandoned lots and places where you would never think of finding anything growing (like right by the beach?). They are the Adriatic variety and I spent part of my last visit inspecting these abandoned trees and looking for ripe fruit that I could eat! The few ripe ones were delicious and I was disappointed to see the locals ignoring them. I have very early memories of my family doing the same thing, but nowadays people rather buy them from the store than try a wild one.
08/18/2011 6:50:36 AM CDT
Deedle says ...
I remember by grandmother's fig tree, we would harvest the figs and we would make fig preserves and jam for days. Hot work in Houston, but the result was worth it. I second the wasps, it was a contest sometimes about who would get the most figs with the least stings!
08/18/2011 7:19:33 AM CDT
Deitra says ...
My grandparents had a fig tree that grew beside their house in North Carolina. As a child, I remember looking at the milky sap and thought it was a milk tree! Gran'mama would make fig preserves that were delicious with her hot, homemade biscuits and butter. Great memories!!!
08/18/2011 8:42:15 AM CDT
kay hobgoodo says ...
fat brown turkey figs w/cream cheese & tupelo (my fav) honey. may want some nice bread additionally. To die for. have some in my frige. nice ones and now my "life is completee!"
08/18/2011 8:57:04 AM CDT
kay hobgood says ...
Fat brown turkey figs w/cream cheese & Tupelo (my fav) honey. May want some nice bread, too. To die for. Have some in my frige. nice ones and now my "life is complete!"
08/18/2011 8:58:42 AM CDT
Tom says ...
last summer was a banner year for our fig tree in Richmond VA. My wife and I were picking 60 to 80 figs per week last August, lots of great preserves and chutneys. Our favorite fresh dish is cut the figs in half put some ricotta in the cavity top with prosciutto and broil.
08/18/2011 9:29:31 AM CDT
LINDA says ...
EVERYTIME I BUY FIGS IN THIS COUNTRY, I HOPE FOR ONE AS GOOD AS THE ONES I ATE JUST OFF THE BOAT, IN CAPRI-- A BAGFUL OF BIG, FAT, FRESH,JUICY FIGS THAT I ALMOST DIDN'T GET, AND NOW THOSE FIGS ARE ONE OF MY BEST MEMORIES EVER. BUT, OF COURSE, I WILL NEVER GET ANOTHER FIG ANYWHERE AS GOOD AS THOSE FIGS WERE.
08/19/2011 12:14:27 AM CDT
Alicia says ...
Never had a fig, but I am now excited to try them! Thanks for the article. :)
08/19/2011 1:20:26 PM CDT
DONNA says ...
I DISCOVERED FRESH FIGS SEVERAL YEARS AGO...AND LOVE THEM BETTER THAN THE DRY...
08/21/2011 8:08:00 AM CDT
Eleni says ...
Figs are just about my favorite fruit. I remember eating them streight from the trees while visiting my relatives in Greece each summer. The ones I have purchased in the stores are not quite as devine but they are good enough on a bowl of Fage with a drizzle of honey on top. The worlds most perfect desert!
08/22/2011 9:48:06 AM CDT
Gwen says ...
I love fig and can not find the fig or the jelly/jams anywhere. I am so excited. I have a place to buy them.
08/24/2011 11:57:13 AM CDT
Cristian Munoz says ...
Great article, I love Figs Very interesting comments as well. I hope to find fresh Figs all year round and also jelly, jam, cereal, etc made of Figs. Congratulations for the nice article!
01/06/2012 6:52:53 AM CST