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Getting Figgy With It

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Are you ready to unlock the secrets of an ancient and oh, so delicious fruit? From its unique texture to its sweet, versatile flavor, figs have been tantalizing taste buds for thousands of years.
Figs might be “read of the day” in the Hernando Sun. But what are they exactly?

They’re a delicate, plump, bell-shaped fruit with a frangible skin that can be brown, purple, green, yellow or black, and vary in size. The inner flesh is raspberry red in color, and all of the fruit is edible — but the skin can be peeled if you prefer.

Fresh figs are a pleasure practically unknown to most of America. Only a small percentage of figs grown in the US (generally in California) are eaten fresh. Most of the rest are dried and processed into a paste to be used in cookies, cakes, pies, puddings, bakery products, jams, and marmalades. Dried figs might be great in snacks but are no comparison to the subtle, honey-sweet succulence of a perfectly ripe fruit.

It’s best to eat fresh figs raw. Better still, eat them just as fast as you can pick them off the tree; heavy and warm from the sun, their delicate skins bursting with scarlet lusciousness and tiny crunchy seeds.

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Californian figs come streaked in golds and greens and look too beautiful to eat, but slice one of these beauties in half and it looks like a spray of raspberries. The inside is the vibrant texture and color of raspberry coulis and has a sweet-tart flavor, because of the crunch of tiny seeds. Their high sugar content puts figs among the sweetest of fruits. Each fig ‘fruit’ is actually an enclosed flower head containing many tiny flowers and seeds.

And we mustn’t forget to mention the many health benefits that come from indulging in these soft, sweet and creamy jewels. People use figs to help treat many health conditions.

They’re an excellent source of bioactive components, including vitamins, minerals, organic acids, amino acids, dietary fibers, and an array of phytochemical components, including carotenoids and polyphenolic compounds. They’ve been valued for centuries for their beneficial effects on gastrointestinal, respiratory, inflammatory, metabolic, and cardiovascular disorders. They’re also a good source of calcium and potassium, which can improve bone density and prevent conditions like osteoporosis. Figs also have a long history of use in traditional medical practices such as Chinese and Indian (Siddha and Ayurvedic) medicine systems.

Although best eaten raw, it’s difficult to find fresh figs in Florida. Figs have a very short shelf life of just a few days. This means that if there is no local production, their import and distribution are extremely difficult.

Thus, they’re considered a specialty fruit here in Florida and not widely available or prominently featured in grocery stores and markets compared to our more popular fruits like apples, oranges, and bananas.

In the US, most figs for commercial sale are grown in California as the fruit can’t tolerate cold temperatures. Outside North America, figs are grown throughout the world, with Algeria, Egypt, Greece, Iran, Morocco, Spain, and Turkey among the top producers.

Figs are versatile. Try them for breakfast, served with sugar and heavy cream. They can be eaten plain, as a first course or dessert, or with a little soft cheese or cured ham to counter their sweetness. Or try them in a salad with pancetta and warm mozzarella, in a pasta dish with Gorgonzola and sage or in tarts with cornmeal and honey. Lately, chefs are using figs in sauces to complement savory meat dishes or maybe sliced on Mediterranean-inspired pizza, flatbreads and salads.

So, when is fig season? Actually, that’s a bit of a trick question: There are two! There’s a smaller harvest in early summer towards the end of June and then a larger one either in late summer or early fall. Prices stay fairly consistent, though a bit expensive.

The Hernando Sun reached out to many of Hernando County’s grocery stores for information, but only Publix responded. Publix offers two varieties of fresh figs: Black Mission and Brown Turkey. Black Mission season typically starts end of June or the beginning of July and runs through the month of October, sometimes into November.

Brown Turkey season typically starts a month later in the beginning of August and runs through the month of October. Choose those that are plump, fragrant and firm but soft to the touch. They should not be burst or leaking. Check regularly online at Publix.com for when their fresh figs are available.

A delicious and refreshing cocktail made with whisky and fig preserves. Photos courtesy of Publix Super Markets, Inc.
A delicious and refreshing cocktail made with whisky and fig preserves. Photos courtesy of Publix Super Markets, Inc.

FIGGY RECIPES

Getting Figgy With It Cocktail
Ingredients
2 oz whiskey
1 tablespoon fig preserves
3 dashes orange bitters
3 dashes bitters
2 oz club soda
Fill cocktail shaker with ice; add all ingredients (except club soda).
Shake well to dissolve preserves; strain into an ice-filled rocks glass.
Top with club soda.
More great recipes at publix.com/liquors.
Other Preparation Methods
Add citrus flavor by substituting lemon-lime soda for the soda water or add a squeeze of fresh lemon or orange juice before serving.

Honeyed Figs in Pastry
Ingredients
1 refrigerated rolled pie crust
6 medium figs
6 tablespoons cream cheese
6 tablespoons honey
Butter-flavor cooking spray
Preheat oven to 400°F. Cut crust into 6 (3-inch) squares; remove stems from figs. Place 1 tablespoon cream cheese in middle of each square; top with 1 fig and 1 tablespoon honey. Bring sides of dough up around figs and pinch together.
Coat muffin tin (or baking sheet) with spray, then add pastries; bake 12–15 minutes until golden. Remove from oven; let stand to cool.
Other Preparation Methods
Broil: Preheat broiler. Halve 6 medium figs and place cut-side up on foil-lined baking sheet. Combine ¼ cup honey and 2 tablespoons lemon juice; brush over figs and broil 2–3 minutes until golden.
Place on a bed of baby arugula and top with blue cheese crumbles or shaved Parmesan cheese. Drizzle with any remaining pan juices.

Easy to make honeyed figs baked in puff pastry.
Easy to make honeyed figs baked in puff pastry.

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