Thursday, November 5, 2015

Gettin' Figgy with It

Just because my fig tree failed doesn't mean I have to be deprived of figs.

I find figs delightful. I like their plush flesh and pleasingly round shape. When cut in half, figs reveal a secret, fertile world, akin to the interior of gemstones. The figs' crunchy seeds offer a dramatic contrast in texture to the fruit's soft flesh, making each bite more enjoyable. 

And softness is key: If your fig looks really firm, with a strong stem - beware! You want some droop in the stem, some looseness in the skin. Too much firmness may be the signs of an unripe fruit. Dark-skinned figs should be just that; too much green is also a key sign of unripeness, though of course this particular clue offers limited information for a green fig. Figs do not ripen after being harvested, though they may "soften" or "mature" or more likely, rot. You will probably not encounter seriously unripe figs unless you are lucky enough have access to a fig tree, but if you do, consider making these candied unripe figs or unripe fig jam. 

Until recently, I thought figs came in two basic varieties (even if there are reputedly nearly 200 fig types): green and "dark" (black/purple/brown).

Green: Kadota (good) and Calimyrna (better) varieties.

Dark:  Brown Turkey (good) and Black Mission (better) varieties. 

I like them all -- and I also enjoy the the chewy, crunchy seeds-in-the-teeth sugar bomb of dried figs of either color.

But recently I've had my fig consciousness expanded in most exciting way. Forget black and green, or any monochromatic color : how about stripes? Behold Panachée figs, aka Tiger Stripe figs, aka Candy Stripe figs, a yellowish fig with green stripes. I assumed that these figs were a recent hybrid, but the name ""panachée," French for "variegated," dates back to 1826, and fig fanciers have known about these striped figs since the 17th century.

Where have they been all my life? And why have they shown up now?

Apparently Tiger Stripe cultivation was considered, but rejected, a century ago by California fig farmers. The variety was fragile, not as productive and didn't dry very well. Improved shipping has translated into a growth in the fresh fig market - I know I've certainly seen more fresh figs at the fruit stands in the past couple of years. I'm guessing our appetite for exotic fruits has also made us more willing to pay extra for showstoppers (Tiger Stripe figs typically cost more than standard figs), which offsets the fragility and unproductivity costs.

I bought the Panachée figs for their exotic and glamorous outsides, but it turns out their insides are even more exciting: ruby-red and juicy instead of the pale, dusty-rose seed interiors. Their flavor is markedly sweeter and more berry jam-like.

You could absolutely scoop out the seed and spread it on toast, add it to Greek yogurt, or use it in any number of ways that you would use strawberry jam.

But why stop there? I cut off the stem end and peeled back the skin in segments to make these stars.

My work was not as clean as it might have been had I not worked impulsively, but no matter. I soon ate the evidence. Because however beautiful these fruits are from the outside, their beauty is more than skin-deep.

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