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The Elusive Fresh Fig
Right Food for the Season - Late Fall
Written by Bob Dunn   

If you’re lucky enough to find fresh figs, grab them. Because of their relatively short shelf life, most of us usually have to experience them dried. I remember when I worked as a waiter in New York that I never saw our head chef more animated over dessert than when he’d managed to get a shipment of fresh Black Mission figs. Bill would serve them up halved with a warm honey/balsamic reduction as a special, letting the acidity mix with the figs’ natural sweetness in a clean duet that needed no other accompaniment. He made sure we’d push the dessert because he knew it was a singular experience.


I’m fortunate enough to have a Brown Turkey fig tree growing in my backyard, and it has brought me back to just how good fresh figs are. Low in calories and high in B-vitamins, fresh figs are light, succulent and sweet. They take on a complexity when cooked as their natural sugars caramelize, the meat jellies and takes on hints of other fruits and the earthiness of their skins intensifies.

While not native to the Northeast, fig trees can be found in backyards throughout New England – planted largely by Italian immigrants who wanted a taste of home in a foreign country. Outside of the odd backyard tree, fresh figs can be found at good green grocers from late summer through very early fall.

Below are two recipes that show off fresh fig’s delicate flavor and the subtle alchemy that occurs when heat is applied to them. 


Arugala Salad with Fresh Figs, Gorgonzola and Bacon

(From the excellent Bistro Cooking at Home by Gordon Hamersley and Joanne McAllister Smart)




12 fresh figs

6 oz. Gorgonzola

3 slices of bacon, cut in half

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

½ cup balsamic vinegar

2 tsps Dijon mustard

1 shallot, finely chopped

Large bunch of arugula, stems removed

1 medium red onion, sliced thinly




Cook up the bacon and set aside. Combine the vinegar, mustard, shallot and salt and pepper and slowly add the olive oil while stirring to form an emulsion. Halve the figs and dimple the center with your finger, then add a marble size bit of Gorgonzola. Place under the broiler just enough to melt the cheese and slightly darken the figs. Toss the arugula and red onion in the dressing, and divide on six salad plates. Adorn the plates with the fig halves and drizzle with remaining dressing. Top with bacon and serve while the figs are still warm.


Cinnamon Fig Jam

(excerpted from food blog Eating Out Loud: http://www.eatingoutloud.com/2008/09/cinnamon-fig-jam.html)




¾ cup sugar
½ cup water
1 lb. mission figs (about 10-12 figs)
1 3″ strip lemon zest
1 cinnamon stick
½ lemon, juiced




I dialed back the sugar on this to a ½ cup because the fresh figs don’t need it. Combine the sugar and water over heat to make a simple syrup. Quarter the figs and add to the pot, along with the lemon zest, lemon juice and cinnamon stick. Simmer over low heat for an hour, let cool and store in the fridge in an air tight container. The cooked figs take on a slight strawberry flavor that works great with the tartness of the lemon and the earthiness of the cinnamon. Excellent served on toasted baguette with goat or blue cheese and equally good on a Pb&J. 



Bob Dunn is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Details, Newsday and other publications. He grew up around restaurants, has worked as a cook and a waiter, and likes good food. 






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