Fabulous, fresh figs
By Katie Scarvey
Is your only experience with figs eating a cakey Fig Newton bar cookie?
If so, you might be surprised to bite into a fresh fig. Sweet and juicy, they’ve sometimes been said to have a taste that is a blend of peach and strawberry.
In Rowan County, we’re fortunate to have an abundance.
Steve Poteat remembers eating figs at his great grandparents’ place in Montgomery County when he was a kid. One of the many flourishing fig trees at his Quail Drive home was grown from a cutting from one of those trees. Another is from a cutting from a fig tree growing on the grounds of Patrick Henry’s Virginia home.
Figs are subtropical plants that require hot weather to grow well. This has been a good season locally.
The most commonly grown figs around here, says county extension agent Darrell Blackwelder, are Brown Turkey and Celeste. Celesteis the best all-around choice for this area says Poteat, who has experience growing more than a dozen fig varieties,
Fig trees are good urban plants, Poteat says, that can be successfully grown on small lots with a minimum of care. Fig trees are also prolific producers, yielding fruit until the first frost.
Poteat, who was in the greenhouse business for 22 years, doesn’t use pesticides on his trees. Fig trees are very hardy, he says, and the only pests he has to deal with are nematodes and birds.
Poteat eats his figs fresh or uses them to make preserves. Because he has such an abundance, he also dries his surplus in a food dehydrator, putting them in plastic bags and popping them into the freezer to eat year round. He also gives plenty of figs away, he says.
Poteat suggests picking figs slightly before they’re fully ripe; otherwise, he says, the birds will get to them first. Don’t pick them green, however, because they won’t ripen off the vine.
Figs are highly perishable, so it’s best to refrigerate them after picking and use them within a few days if possible.
Nutritionally, figs are packed with antioxidants. Figs also contain an enzyme that is considered helpful to digestion. And according to one study, figs have tumor-shrinking properties.
Many recipes call for dried figs, which are available commercially ó but you can also dry your own. The easiest way is in a commercial food dehydrator, but then can be dried in the sun, says Poteat, who has dried fruit inside a hot car.
Figs can also be oven- dried; cut them in half and dried at a temperature of around 120 degrees, the process will take 8-12 hours. Don’t use too high a temperature or the figs will cook.
Charlotte Eller’s Fig Pickles
Cindy Hobbs shared this family recipe, which is from her “By Request” cookbook.
4 quarts firm, ripe figs
3 C. sugar
2 quarts water
2 C. sugar
2 sticks cinnamon
3 C. white vinegar
1 Tbsp. whole cloves
1 Tbsp. whole allspice
Place figs in large bowl. Pour boiling water over figs and let stand until cool. Drain.
In large stockpot, add 3 C. sugar and 2 quarts water. Cook until sugar dissolves. Add figs and cook slowly for 30 minutes.
Add 2 C. sugar and 3 C. vinegar.
Tie spices in cheesecloth bag and add to figs.
Simmer gently until figs are clear. Cover and let stand 12 hours in a cool place.
Remove spice bag. Heat to simmer. Pack in hot jars. Adjust lids and cool.
Baked Fresh Figs
This recipe for this easy but impressive baked fresh fig appetizer is also from Hobbs’ cookbook. fresh figs
Slice figs in half. Top each with 1 Tbsp. Gorgonzola cheese. Wrap each with a slice of ham. Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes or until the cheese is hot.
Makes a wonderful appetizer and would be good served on spinach or mixed greens as a salad.
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This recipe for Fig Cake comes from Carol Palmer.
She writes via- e-mail, “I found this recipe in ‘Southern Living’ sometime in the 1970s or ’80s. I use a recipe for fig preserves from Craig Claiborne’s Southern Cooking cookbook. If you have enough figs, you can have lots of cake and still have preserves leftover!
“This spicy, moist cake keeps very well, and freezes well. The flavor improves if the cake is stored overnight before cutting.”
1/2 C. butter or margarine, softened
1 C. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 C. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. each of ground cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves
1 C. buttermilk
1 1/2 C. fig preserves with juices, chopped
1/2 C. chopped nuts
1/2 C. coconut (optional)
1 C. raisins (optional)
Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy; add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in vanilla.
Combine flour, soda, and spices; add to creamed mixture alternately with buttermilk, mixing well after each addition. Stir in figs and nuts; add coconut and raisins if desired.
Spoon batter into a greased and floured 10-inch tube or bundt pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes or until done.
It can also be baked in 2 loaf pans, and the cooking time will be a little shorter, depending on the size of the pans.
Mary Frances Roueche’s Fig Preserves
4 pounds fresh figs
4 C. sugar (can also use 2 C. sugar and 2 C. Splenda)
1 C. water
Wash and peel figs if needed. Slice lemon width-wise and remove seeds.
Combine sugar and water, bring to boil and cook five minutes.
Add figs and lemon slices. Cook rapidly until clear.
Seal in clean, hot jars.
Makes 3 pints.
Fresh Fig Cookies
Most of us have had store-bought fig cookies, but why not try your hand making a fresh fig cookie? This recipe comes from the ChefMom.com Web site.
1 C. sugar
1/2 C. shortening
2 C. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1 C. fresh figs, peeled, chopped
1/2 C. walnuts, chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream sugar and shortening and add beaten egg. In a medium-sized bowl, sift dry ingredients. Add flour mixture to creamed mixture, blending well. Fold in figs and nuts. Drop by spoonfuls on greased sheet. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Store cooled cookies in an airtight container in the pantry for up to a week. Makes about three dozen.
Fresh Fig Salsa
This salsa, made with sweet figs and mango, goes well with grilled meats, poultry or seafood. From ChefMom.com.
2 C. (about 1 pound) fresh firm-ripe figs, stemmed, diced
2 fresh green onions, sliced crosswise
2 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, coarsely chopped
1 C. peeled and diced mango
2 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh mint
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
2 tsp. grated lime peel
2 Tbsp. lime juice
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste
Combine all ingredients and chill several hours to blend flavors. Serve with broiled or grilled fish, chicken, pork, beef or lamb or simply eat with chips for dipping.
Grilled Pork and Fig Kabobs
Fresh figs add interest to these grilled pork kabobs.
1 pound pork tenderloin
2 Tbsp. honey
2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp. seasoned rice vinegar
2 Tbsp. unsweetened orange juice
1 clove garlic, minced
8 large fresh figs, halved lengthwise (about 3/4 pound)
8 (8- to 10-inch) metal or wooden skewers
1. Trim fat from pork, and cut crosswise into 16 slices. Combine honey, mustard, vinegar, orange juice, and garlic in a shallow, nonmetal dish. Add pork, turning to coat. Cover and marinate in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
2. Remove pork from the marinade. Thread 4 pork slices onto each of 4 (8-inch) skewers. Thread 4 fig halves lengthwise onto each of another 4 (8-inch) skewers.
3. Coat grill rack with nonstick cooking spray and preheat to medium-high. Place pork kabobs on rack and cook 4 minutes.
4. Turn pork skewers over, and place fig skewers, cut sides up, on rack. Cook for 4 minutes or until pork is done and figs are thoroughly heated. Serve with rice (and fig salsa), if desired.
Note: Soak wooden skewers in water for 30 minutes before use to prevent wood from flaming on the grill.
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Clyde Overcash, who has several large fig bushes in his yard, shared this recipe ó more than a century old ó for candied dried figs.
Aunt Sally Parnell’s Candied Dried Figs
2 C. sugar
2 C. water
2 quarts figs
Boil sugar and water 10 minutes. Add figs and simmer for 45 minutes. Let stand overnight.
Simmer 30 minutes second day. Let stand overnight.
Simmer 30 minutes third day. Let stand overnight.
Remove from pot and let dry. Roll in sugar. Place in packing container or freezer.
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