by Tara Davis

I have spent today with my hands in one of my favorite foods and ingredients, and years of fond memories on my mind.  The scents of green and sweetness, the bitter sap and ever so slight sting, the honeyed lingering of freshly picked figs – it all becomes a once again reality every time I use them, see them, touch and taste them.

And it’s no wonder, really.  Not only mentioned, but valued, nay, revered in religious texts from the Bible, Qur’an and Buddhist texts to Greek mythology, figs have been prevalent for centuries as a dietary and medicinal mainstay (Most often documented to alleviate calluses and warts).

I remember eating almost as many as I picked, as a child.  Climbing into the largest of the trees to enjoy the cool shade of the leaves.  The smell of preserves wafting from the kitchen into the nooks of our house, and the homes of grandmothers, great aunts, cousins.  I always loved blueberry season, but nothing ever quite compared to the delicate but mighty fig’s brief time every summer.

My mother still annually makes my favorite of all desserts – an old fashioned fig cake. And no, sorry, THAT recipe I will keep to myself.

 An Asian plant in the mulberry family, used both for its fruit and ornamentally, ficus carica are native to the Middle East and Western Asia, and come in over one hundred fifty varieties.  The most common here are Black Mission, Brown Turkey and Adriatic – Whether you prefer yours fresh, dried, as preserves, jam or in Newton form, they tout fiber, antioxidants and vitamin B6, and are just plain tasty.

 A few quick and easy ways to enjoy them – while you still can –

 The recipes:

 Poached – Trim the stems and clean 3-4 cups fresh figs. Bring 2 cups red wine or fruit juice of your choice and 3 tbsp honey to a simmer. Drop the figs in 2-3 batches into the simmering liquid, and cook on all sides 1-2 minutes, until just softened.  Serve over ice cream or with whipped cream. Top with poaching liquid.

 Salad – Clean and cut in half 1 cup fresh figs. Cut one half small wheel brie cheese into thin wedges. Cook 6-8 strips bacon to desired doneness..  Plate mixed greens, topped with figs, bacon, cheese and drizzled with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

 Stuffed – Cut in half ½ cup fresh figs.  Fill with a mixture of goat cheese, honey and chopped pecans. Sprinkle with fresh basil and thyme. Serve cold or room temperature as a starter or dessert.

 Muffins – mix together 1.5 cups all purpose flour, ½ cup brown sugar, 1/3 tsp salt. 2 tsp baking powder, 1/3 c vegetable oil, 1 egg, 1/3 cup milk, 1 cup fresh (or 2/3 cup dried) figs.  Spoon into greased muffin tins. Bake at 400 degrees 20-25 minutes, until done in the center.