The luxury of a luscious ripe fig is extraordinary. The soft and yielding fruit is full of seeds, but they are so small they just add to the unique texture that makes fresh figs so sought after. Most varieties are intensely sweet, so they get used in desserts. That works, of course, but I also like to use that honey-like sweetness to cut sharper savory flavors. Below you'll find some great ways to highlight and yet cut figs' sugary ways with piquant, bitter, and salty pairings. Make the most of fresh figs with this guide to choosing, storing, and serving fresh figs.
A sweet, honeyed taste and a soft (some might say squishy) texture make fresh figs worth seeking out. Unctuous fruit studded with discernible seeds are a far cry from the dried figs most people know. Yet that yielding texture makes them particularly sensitive to travel, since they split and spoil quickly when not handled with kid gloves, a fact that makes fresh figs even more seductive and finding a source for locally grown ones worth the effort.
Figs have two seasons. A quick, shorter season in early summer and a second, main crop that starts in late summer and runs through fall. Figs cannot withstand temperatures much below 20°F, and so are not available from local sources in much of the Midwest and northeastern U.S.
Black Mission and Brown Turkey figs seem to be the most common at most markets, but there is a wide range of figs, including striped Adriatic figs and pale green Kadota figs are increasingly available fresh. Learn about different fig varieties with this Guide to Fig Varieties.
How to Buy Figs
Figs are fragile. Rare is the fig shopper who finds perfect, unmarred fresh figs. Lucky for the rest of us, slightly wrinkled (but still plump) and even split figs (as long as they are not weeping or leaking), are what you want. A bit of bend at the stem and a slight weariness to the skin both indicate better ripeness and flavor that taunt, shiny skins and stems that look like they're still grasping for the tree.
Avoid figs that look shrunken, are oozing from their splits, have milky liquid around the stem, or are super squishy. It also seems obvious, but just to make sure you know what to look for, avoid figs with any sign of mold. Be sure to check on the underside of the container, if they're in one, for these signals that the figs are better suited for the compost than consumption.
How to Store Figs
Not for long! Fresh figs wait for no one, so plan on eating them within a day or two of buying them. They keep best at room temperature with plenty of air circulating around them. They will keep a bit longer in the refrigerator, but chilling detracts a bit from their full flavor, so try to avoid it.
Tip: I keep mine on the counter in full view so I remember to use them quickly.
How to Serve Figs
The heavily sweet taste of figs is a natural match with many savory foods. For specific ideas, see these 10 Quick Fig Recipes. Or, come up with your own winning combination by keeping in mind the fact that figs are particular delicious with:
- Aged Cheese figs are famously delicious with blue cheeses, but their sweetness makes them work with any salty aged cheese (Blue Cheese-Stuffed Figs are my favorite)
- Aromatics such as garlic, olives, capers (Fig Coulis proves this point)
- Citrus in particular lemon and orange
- Cured Meats like pancetta, bacon, and ham (try Bacon-Wrapped Figs)
- Fortified Wines & Dark Spirits such as brandy, rum, port, and sherry (Honey-Fried Figs made with port are worth writing home about)
- Full-Flavored Vinegars such as balsamic or sherry (this Fig Salad with Balsamic Dressing is a fine example)
- Nuts of all kinds
- Rich Dairy Products like cream, marscapone, and creme fraiche (Fig Crostini with goat cheese are insanely tasty and easy)
- Warm spices like cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, nutmeg, and star anise (these Figs In Spiced Syrup are amazing)
How to Grow Figs
If you're lucky enough to live somewhere where fig trees can thrive, growing a fig tree is pretty darn easy. I planted one about five years ago and it's beautiful. I have yet to eat one of its figs, however - the animals eat them before they're ripe enough for me. That reminds me, I really should get around to wrapping its trunk in hopes of saving some fruit for myself....
See How to Grow Organic Figs to get started.