Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Pick of the Week: Figs

When I think of fall, I think of sweaters, boots, apples, winter squash, long walks, beautiful leaves — and figs. Why figs? Because I know soon, the season is over, so now is the time I eat my fill.

I'm not talking Newtons here. I’m talking fresh figs, one of the least understood fruits that Mother Nature has to offer.

When I was choosing my figs last night, a little girl — with the biggest of blue eyes — was staring me down. “What are those?” she asked, wrinkling her nose. I told her “those” are figs, one of my favorite fruits, which to me tastes like a cross between a peach and strawberry. “But they are so ugly,” she said.

And there lies the problem. They are pretty unattractive, although some call the fruit erotic and claim it is a powerful sexual stimulant. Guess beauty really is in the eyes of the beholder. Figs have a long and storied past, one of the oldest known fruits. They were Cleopatra’s favorite fruit, the tree under which Buddha meditated, and the Tree of Life and Knowledge for inhabitants from Central Africa to the Far East.

 I just like them — in all their many varieties. The following are the most common:

Brown Turkey Figs have a brownish/copper-colored skin, often with hints of purple, and mostly pink/red flesh with some white mixed in. They are most commonly sold fresh.

Calimyrna Figs are big, with greenish-yellow skins. The crunchy seeds inside give this fig a slightly nutty taste.

Black Mission Figs get their name from the missionaries who planted this fruit along California’s coast. This fig is a deep purple that darkens to black when dried. It is one of the most versatile varieties, available fresh and dried.

Kadota Figs are nature’s candy, the sweetest of all figs. This variety is usually canned and dried, but if you see them at market, give them a try. They have a pale yellow skin and is pink to purple inside.

 Actually, give them all a try.

Choosing: By the time a fig reaches market, it’s ripe. They have a very short shelf life. The skin will become soft, but it should still be firm. The skin itself should be thin and moist. Leave bruised or split figs at the market. And please, handle them with care because they are very delicate. Like eggs, they belong at the top of your grocery bag.

Storing: As soon as you get home, place them in a container in a single layer and pop them in the refrigerator. Eat as soon as possible, definitely within a day or two.

This recipe was my mom’s favorite hors d’oeuvre, the perfect match with the Manhattans and martinis my parent’s group of friends favored. Although they are very rich, I recommend doubling the recipe. Stuffed Figs a la Vi tend to disappear very quickly. Make them early in the day, and pop them in the oven as your guests arrive.

Stuffed Figs a la Vi

6 large whole figs, quartered

Soft garlicky cheese such as Boursin

12 thinly sliced prosciutto, cut in half

3 Tblsp. honey

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.
  • Cut a small hole in the center of each fig quarter. Fill each hole with 1/4 teaspoon Boursin.
  • Wrap 1 prosciutto half diagonally around a fig quarter, starting at the top. Tuck the ends underneath and place on prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining figs.
  • Drizzle honey evenly over each fig. Place in the oven on the top rack and roast for 8 to 10 minutes. Remove; serve immediately.



  1. This recipe sounds amazing, I am definitely making that this week. Thanks for the description of the different types - I never knew that was why they are called Black Mission!

  2. I've always been scared to try fresh figs because I didn't know how to eat them. Do you peel or seed them, or just rinse and go at it?


  3. Just rinse and go. And don't be afraid -- it's only food! My love to your wonderful family.