One of the best things about the beginning of autumn is the arrival of figs, which are not actually fruit, but a collection of flowers, inverted (called a syconium). Figs are ripening in the Italian gardens of my Brooklyn neighborhood, Carroll Gardens. I lurk on the sidewalks, watching unpicked fruit become plump. It’s unbearable, for a fruit bat, like me. I may start leaving notes under doors: “Please let me eat your figs.”
I prefer figs fresh and raw and firmly ripe. Their texture and flavor are indescribably good. If they are are slightly overripe and syrupy, I cook them, briefly. Read on for 11 ideas for the fruit that is ready now:
Photography and food by Marie Viljoen.
Above: I grew up climbing the fig tree growing behind the kitchen of our family home in Bloemfontein, South Africa. The figs were large with pale green skins and pure pink insides. I have no idea what their name was. We moved to Cape Town, and in the old gardens of Constantia there were old fig trees with purple-skinned fruit and glossy, garnet red flesh. Their first flavor was sour on the tongue before sweetness flooded in.
In Brooklyn many years later, I grew a small, nameless fig in a pot, trimming its roots every other year. It overwintered outside and in June (the breba crop) and August (main crop) bore plump brown and green-skinned fruit, white inside. It was killed by a falling icicle after a move to Harlem. There is now a new tree in our new garden, but it lost its crop to transplant shock (I planted it this summer). I must wait for next year.
In the meantime, there is the local greengrocer.
Above: Straight up. If you are lucky enough to be in possession of flawless figs there is nothing you can do to improve them. Offer knives and plates for those who like to peel.
Fennel, Feta…and Figs
Above: The sharp crunch of raw fennel that has been tossed in a fresh lemon dressing, with slivers of preserved lemon, is a tart partner for soft, sweet figs. Add feta for salted creaminess.
Above: Evening picnics call for easy salads. Combine tender buffalo mozzarella and fresh fig segments with the last of the season’s basil.
Tomatoes and Figs
Spinach Fig Salad
Above: Spinach salad needs help. Figs do wonders for the lightly metallic leaves and are ripe just as cool-weather crops are returning to our plates.
Above: This riff on the bread salads of high summer was served at Oep ve Koep, in Paternoster, South Africa—figs are substituted for tomatoes with a sharp dressing, plenty of good olive oil, and peppery brassica flowers.
Parma Ham and Figs
Above: A classic pairing of figs with silkily thin slices of Parma ham is an early fall celebration.
Pork Chops and Figs
Above: Figs have an affinity for pork. Top rosemary-grilled pork chops with fresh fig halves and thin slices of preserved lemon.
Lillet and Figs
Above: Peel figs, slice in half, and cover with a slosh of chilled Lillet Blanc. The aromatic fortified wine is wonderful with the fruit. Serve as dessert with cheese, or as a cocktail with benefits.
Above: A twist on spiedini. Thread halved fresh figs on skewers with cubes of sourdough and slices of mozzarella. Place under a broiler until the cheese has melted. Drizzle with hot anchovy butter and eat before the cheese cools. Your friends will hum with happiness.
Above: Dress overripe figs with a squeeze of lime juice and a few drops of sesame oil. Top with a blend of fresh chiles and lemon or lime zest, and sprinkle with salt. Grill, and serve on shiso (perilla) or basil leaves, as a snack.
For more ideas for figs, see Stalking the Wild Fig.
Finally, get more ideas on how to successfully plant, grow, and care for a creeping fig with our Creeping Fig: A Field Guide.
Finally, get more ideas on how to plant, grow, and care for various vines and climbers with our Vines & Climbers: A Field Guide.