For the Love of Figs

I love figs. I have been know to go to great lengths to acquire excellent figs. I have even been known to steal them from the neighbors. Though I prefer the term urban foraging.

Figs are difficult to buy at the grocery store they do not pack or ship properly. Very good figs should be allowed to completely ripen on the tree. But once ripe they only last a few days.

All of these facts make me love figs all the more. Because the truly special. The utterly delicious, and the mind blowingly perfect deserve to be a wee bit finicky in my opinion.

So I am always surprised when tried and true foodies say to me “I don’t really like figs”. Well, in truth I don’t really understand that statement regarding any food. But with figs it’s is particularly baffling.

So before you ask, let me just say. “No. You can’t replace the figs with cherry LifeSavers in this recipe.”



figs with honey feta and procsiuttoBecause figs define what is truly glorious about food. And I don’t just mean their sweet, earthy goodness either. It’s not even their nearly erotic allure. Though these elements certainly help make a perfectly ripe fig one of the 7 wonders of the culinary world.

To put it simply. Like many of the best food experiences figs are enjoyed with all five of your senses. As I mentioned, figs are visually very sensual. There is no denying their mystic in this department.

Their aroma is sweet. But there is a dusky mustiness behind the sweet floral fragrance too. Adding to their primitive appeal.

If you have ever had the pleasure of picking your own figs you know what a silky, smooth skin they have. Ripe figs also have a satisfying heft that just feels right in the palm of your hand.

Some say figs taste like strawberries. I say that is an over-simplification. It’s true they are sweet like strawberries, but they are oh so earthy too!

And though it’s true that figs don’t make a lot of sound all on their own. But the very mention of the word is likely to cause the other 4 senses to kick in and start to make quite a racket.

Which is why disappointing figs are very likely the culprit behind the incomprehensible phrase I mentioned– “I don’t really like figs”.

So let’s talk about selecting fresh figs. It is not too difficult. But there are a few tricks.

It is very important however those figs come from a hot climate. The hotter the better. The figs I remember from Southern Italy are far superior to some of the figs I have tasted from Northern California. However, as figs do not travel well you may have very little control over this aspect of choosing the best figs.

You should also know that figs range from pale green though deep black or burgundy red. Many people believe that color is an indicator for flavor. I have heard that the deep dark Black Mission figs are the sweetest. This is not true. I have eaten pale green figs as sweet as jam; much sweeter than the commercially grown Black Mission variety.

Whichever the color, a fig should look firm and well-shaped. If there is white sap weeping from the stem end then it was picked too early.

Check the other end too. A drop or two of nectar slipping out of the just beginning to crack open depression at the base of the fig is ideal. Slight splits in the skin as long as they are not deep are also acceptable.

A very ripe fig can be very sweet. You can recognize it when the interior flesh begins to become brownish and the seeds are very well defined. However, once it is to this stage it may have begun to ferment. This is off putting to some people, but others like the flavor.

But the real reason figs send food loving folks over the moon is because it is one of those unique foods that pairs so well with other foods. Sweet, salty, sour or spicy. Their association with these flavors transforms figs. Creating unique combinations that can transport the fig and allow you to taste so many other elements of its complex sweetness.

A fig is like wine this way. It can be transformed and defined by the flavors it is paired with.  It becomes a completely different experience set against sweet ingredients than you can expect paired with salty foods.

To illustrate this fact, I have developed a simple and elegant appetizer, mixing and matching figs with sweet and salty tastes. Take a nibble here. Add a bite there. Let the flavors and combinations work their way around your taste buds and I think you will see what I mean.

Fig and Feta Crostini

figs feta honey appetizer1/2 baguette

2 tablespoons very good olive oil

8 ounces crumbled feta cheese, room temperature

4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

1/2‑cup honey

1 tablespoon fresh lemon thyme leaves, plus more for garnish

1/4 pound prosciutto, sliced very thin and torn into 24 even sized pieces

12 fresh figs, halved lengthwise

Pre-heat the broiler. Cut the baguette in to 24 slices about 1/4” thick. Move them to a baking sheet and brush the topside with the olive oil. Broil until toasted on one side 1 or 2 minutes. Set aside.

In small bowls vigorously beat both cheeses together, add the honey and the thyme leaves and continue mixing until a smooth texture is achieved.

Spoon about 1 teaspoon of the cheese mixture onto each toast round. Then artfully arrange a piece of prosciutto onto each toast. Garnish with additional thyme leaves.

Spoon about 1 teaspoon of the cheese mixture onto each fig half and also garnish with thyme. Serve immediately.


Greg Henry