One of the perks of living in the Prairie — where we tend to define “neighborhood” in square miles rather than streets — is that folks are, well, neighborly. It may manifest in any number of ways — a tractor to the rescue for a truck mired in mud, an extra pair of hands when the water line springs a leak. It may mean fresh eggs from the neighbor across the road one week or a bag of garden tomatoes on the doorknob from another the next. This past weekend, it turned up in the way of fresh figs, passed over the proverbial fence.
Sweet, luscious figs are coming in. Their season in Mississippi generally extends from mid-summer into early fall. Although dried figs are available year-round, this is the time of year to enjoy the unique taste and texture of the fresh version. Figs grow on the Ficus carica tree or bush, a member of the mulberry family. With more than 700 named varieties out there, they can range widely in color and sometimes texture. Once picked, the ripe fruit doesn’t keep well for long, so most commercial production is in dried and otherwise processed forms (Fig Newtons, anyone?)
Figs, rich in natural sugar, are a great source of dietary fiber and a good source of some essential minerals, including magnesium, manganese, calcium, copper and potassium, as well as vitamins, especially B6 and K. The nutritional value actually increases when figs are dried, says whfoods.com (World’s Healthiest Foods). A half-cup of fresh figs provides as much calcium as a half-cup of milk, but a single dried fig contains almost as much calcium as an egg. Fresh or dried, figs contain powerful antioxidants that neutralize free radicals in the body and fight disease.
Figs can be used for baking in savory and sweet recipes, and in salads, too. A few suggestions found online include adding quartered figs to a salad of fennel, arugula and shaved Parmesan cheese. Or when preparing oatmeal or other whole grain breakfast porridges, add a few dried or fresh figs. Poach figs in juice or red wine and serve with your next frozen dessert or yogurt. Fresh figs stuffed with goat cheese and chopped almonds can be served as hor d’oeuvres or desserts.
Fresh figs and a touch of lemon juice make up an elegant fig sorbet, recipe included today. Make sure to leave some of the crunchy fig seeds intact for the best texture.
“Figs are really popular in fig preserves, and some people just like to get them to eat (fresh),” says grower Phil Lancaster of Hamilton. It takes about three years for fig trees or bushes to start really bearing, he adds. “As they get older, they get bigger and bigger and make more and more — unless the birds get to them.”
When shopping for fresh figs this season, keep in mind that they are one of the most perishable fruits, so should be purchased only a day or two in advance of when you plan on eating them. Fresh figs used in cooking should be plump and soft, without bruises or splits. Look for rich, deep color and figs that are plump and tender, but not mushy. If they smell sour, they have become over-ripe, says whfoods.com.
Ripe figs should be kept in the refrigerator where they will stay fresh for about two days. They are delicate and easily bruised, so you may want to store them on a paper towel-lined plate or in a shallow bowl, covered with plastic wrap to help keep them from drying out or picking up odors from other foods. Slightly under-ripe figs should be kept on a plate at room temperature, away from direct sunlight. Before using, wash figs under cool water and pat dry. Don’t forget to remove the stem. The fruit is most flavorful at room temperature, advises whfoods.com.
Below are a few quick recipes to help put the local fig harvest to use. Enjoy them in good health.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 15 minutes
Makes 4-6 servings
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons tawny port, Madeira, or other sweet, fortified wine (optional)
Ice cream, whipped cream, or yogurt to serve (optional)
Total time: 5 minutes
Makes 6 servings
4 cups whole, ripe figs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
FRESH FIG SPREAD
Total time: 5 minutes
Makes about 1 1/2 cups of puree
20 fresh, ripe figs
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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