Dad's Fig Tree

A fig, a few weeks before its ready on Dad's tree in Toledo, Ohio.

Figs are the tender watery essence of sugar and sunshine. This mid to end of summer produce has a drippy kitten soft texture with a mellow honey flavor. In New York City upscale delis often carry the fresh black mission variety. Look for figs that are plump, soft to the touch and and dark. A small amount of figgy syrup often collects on the bottom of such gift-like packages. Figs with a little bit of mold are usually as ripe as they get (okay to eat after you cut out the mold) but will not last longer than a day.

Walking around the boroughs I have often see the green fig trees (pink in the center) growing in yards, especially in the predominately Greek neighborhood of Astoria. The broad shapely leaves bring me back to my adolescence in Ohio. The fig also brings my father back to his childhood growing up in Beirut, Lebanon. He tells of fig trees growing on city streets. In 1993 he purchased an Italian honey fig for our home. It bore fruit its 2nd year. My father planted the tree in a large planting tub, about 2 feet in diameter and 2.5 feet high. Ohio summers are hot and humid, while the winters can be oppressively cold, often well below zero. It stays inside by a wall of windows from October to late May, when it gets put out on the patio. He picks the figs twice a year, about 6 figs per crop. Mostly eaten plain and whole. I have noticed a growing number of decadent fig recipes in magazines and online, as figs find their way on to the plates of restaurants around the country.

Some Summer Figgy Ideas:

1) Lightly soaked in brandy, sauteed or grilled (if your figs are too small, try skewering them) and served with ice cream

2) Cut in quarters and served with ricotta and honey.

3) In a green salad with mixed greens, maybe some nuts too, with a balsamic dressing.

4) Sliced on a sandwich with ham and cheese.

5) Fig tart!

6) If you have too many (lucky you) try making a fig jam. Nice on a sandwich, topped on pork tenderloin, or as a spread with a cheese and cracker plate.

Black Mission Fig Jam
(based on January 2009 Bon Appétit recipe)

3/4 lb Black Mission figs, stems removed, and diced
(use the variety you have at hand, also okay to use 1/2 lb dried)
1 cup water
2 tblsp molasses
3/4 tsp dijon mustard
3/4 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp salt

Combine all ingredients in a small heavy pot. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cook until reduced and thick, stirring often, 45-60 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, and cool. Keeps for 2 weeks.

This recipe is from an article about "Breakfast Spots," accompanying a recipe for a breakfast sandwich of biscuits, this fig jam, melted sharp cheddar, and slices of ham. I don't have the patience for all of that but oooooh boy!)

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