When I think of summertime, I can’t help but think about fresh figs. Most people think of fresh peaches or nectarines as symbols of summertime. But I was raised by the “Queen” of specialty produce, so of course summer would remind me of figs.
Back in the early 1980s we were introduced to a small farmer by the name of Don Wessel. He and his family had a small fig farm near Visalia, California, and he shipped us the most beautiful yellow-greenish skinned figs – the Calmyrna variety. I remember how heavenly they tasted. (We probably would have sold more, but mom and I always had to sample them when the shipments arrived!)
It’s hard to believe that was 30 years ago! At that time, most consumers outside California had never seen, let alone tasted, a fresh fig. When I would ask my friends if they liked figs, they would say, “Figs? You mean like Fig Newton cookies?”
Figs go back to biblical times. Adam and Eve supposedly used fig leaves to make their first clothes. If you grew up in Italy, or have Mediterranean heritage, fresh figs may be a part of the authentic family meal. Tree-ripened fresh figs, broken in half, might be served wrapped in prosciutto, or stuffed with Gorgonzola cheese and broiled. What a perfect appetizer or dessert.
Over the last 30 years, fresh figs have really grown in popularity. There are now dozens of commercial fig farmers (both inside and outside California) who sell to the fresh market. (In contrast to those farmers who have their figs dried and then sold, or have them made into paste for cookies and baked goods.) Thanks to the amazing transportation system of our fresh produce industry, you can find fresh figs in local supermarkets from Maine to Florida and from California to Texas to Alaska, and everywhere in between. They may be shipped by truck, or by air. And if you’re lucky enough to find some in your local market this summer, I encourage you to buy a basket or a few fruits.
July is the peak of fig season. You can now find black-skinned varieties (Black Mission), brown-skinned (Brown Turkey), yellow-skinned (Calmyrna) or amber-skinned figs (Kadota). Check out the California Fresh Fig Growers Association website for some great info and recipes: www.calfreshfigs.com
I believe we should thank all the innovative chefs across the country for their role in fresh fig availability. As with many specialty items, it is chefs and their desire to have new flavors and textures, who spark new food trends and industries. It is because of these creative chefs, working with growers, that we can now get fresh figs through much of the summer and fall.
Fresh figs were even the “Secret Ingredient” on an episode of the Food Network’s Iron Chef America show this year.
Yes, figs have really come a long way!
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