One of the great treats of summer eating are fresh figs. There is really nothing like the flavor of a fig, featuring a very sweet, yet also very complex flavor. Every part of the fig is in play once you bite into it; the flesh has a bit of a chewy texture, the skin a rather smooth texture, and the seeds provide a bit of a crunchiness - all contributing to a truly delectable eating experience.
Most figs that are sold at the retail level in the U.S. come from California. As a matter of fact, California produces 98% of the nation’s fresh figs and 100% of the dried ones. The season for fresh figs from California runs from mid-May through mid-January thanks to new plantings in the Imperial and Coachella Valleys of California. There are 5 main varieties of figs available throughout the season:
Black Mission Figs
This fig was named for the mission fathers who planted the fruit along the California coast. The fruit is a deep rich purple color, which darkens to a rich black when dried. Mission figs have a very distinct teardrop appearance with a pinkish-reddish flesh, and are often described as “sweeter than honey.”
Brown Turkey Figs
This variety has a brownish, copper colored skin, often with hints of purple. The flesh is typically a pink/red color, but sometimes white. Supposedly, they received their name because turkeys liked to eat them. Not that the taste buds of a turkey are necessarily a great endorsement, but that aside, the Brown Turkey fig tends to have a milder flavor than other fig varieties, and is certainly less sweet than the Black Mission.
The Kadota Fig is the American version of the original Italian Dattato fig, which is thick-skinned with a creamy amber color when ripe. Practically seedless, this fig is often canned and dried. An interesting side note, birds will often leave these figs alone, because, since they are green when ripe, the birds don't know they're ripe.
The Calimyrna fig is a fairly large fruit and is best know for having a nut-like flavor and a golden/greenish skin. The interior of the fruit is amber colored.
This variety is best known as the most often used fig in making fig bars. It has a light green skin and a pinkish tan flesh.
Figs are indeed fragile, which presents challenges to both the retailer and the shopper. It’s often rare as a shopper to find a fig in perfect condition. Fortunately, perfection is not always necessary. Even if you find a slightly wrinkled, but still plump fig, go for it. And, even a fig with a slight split (as long as it is not leaking or oozing) will also be fine. A bit of bend at the stem and a slight weariness to the skin both indicate better ripeness and flavor. Avoid figs that look shrunken, are oozing from their splits, have milky liquid around the stem, are very squishy, or have any sign of mold. The smell of fresh figs can provide an excellent indicator of ripeness. If they smell sweet, they are ripe; if they smell sour, it is an indication that they may be spoiled or overripe.
Enjoy this delicious, but often rare treat this summer. You will not be disappointed.