It’s time for local figs.
Actually almost past time, so get ready, time’s a wastin’. Things are about to get figgy!
I love the summer. Fresh produce and veggies abound and each week at local farmers markets reveal a new harvest of seasonal favorites. Happily, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, peppers and chilies will all be around well into September, some up until the first frost. Corn is in its prime right now, although it will still be available in the weeks ahead. And, in these parts, figs are a late summer 3-4 week crop at best. Heads up my friends, local fig season is flourishing NOW! Don’t blink, they will be gone before you know it!
Fig trees put out fruit slowly at first and then the branches are filled to brim with sweet ripe fruit. Farmers pick as fast as they can; but once picked, fresh figs only last a couple of days before they will start to over-ripen or go bad.
If you love figs like I do, buy several containers as you hit local farmers’ markets this weekend. One to snack on as you drive back home; the other to enjoy this weekend or to freeze , dry or cook with to preserve their flavor for weeks or months to come.
Be sure to get to your local Farmers Market early so you won’t miss out. Fresh figs sell out fast!
Where to Find Fresh Figs
In the Charlotte area, the figginess you seek out there and well worth the search. If you are lucky, you have a neighbor or friend with a backyard fig tree. If you are shopping at local markets in Charlotte, here is my inside intel. Last Saturday ( August 15) several farmers with figs at the both the Matthews Community Farmers’ Market in Matthews NC and at the Charlotte Regional farmers’ market on Yorkmont Road in Charlotte. I suspect figs will make an appearance at those markets this weekend, as well. I suspect one might also find them at the Southend Market at Atherton, the Davidson Farmers Market and maybe the Waxhaw Farmers Market.
Once you buy your figs, if they are ripe – and I suspect they will be; you’ll need to use them ( or eat them) right away. Keep them in the fridge, but know they will ripen and then over ripen quickly. It all happens fast.
How to Store Figs
Here is a great fig storage trick I learned some years ago from a local farmer. If there was a picture in the dictionary by the word ingenuity; it would be of a group of local farmers, who seems to have a clever solution for any dilemma.
Keep the fresh figs in a cardboard egg carton, each fig in its own separate compartment. They will stay fresher longer this way. When you pile the figs in a plastic container or bag, the ones on the bottom bear the weight of the load and begin to get soft fast!
Figs with Local Honey and Cheese; Yes, Please!
In the Charlotte area, the likelihood is great that you will buy one of two varieties: Brown Turkey Figs or Celeste. Brown Turkeys are by far the more prevalent. Because they are so perishable, its unusual to regularly find fresh figs in local grocery stores. If you do, you may find varieties such as the beautifully green kadota figs or dark black mission figs.
Nearly any kind of Turkish fig you would find in North Carolina would be dried. If the dried figs don’t come from Turkey or the Middle East, then, they come from California. Turkey is the largest producer of dried figs in the world. California is the largest producer of dried figs in the United States.
Most of the recipes here work equally well with fresh or dried figs. The exception is the recipe for stuffed figs which for me are the very best way to celebrate and enjoy this glorious season of fresh figs! Dig in!
For this “don’t-even-need-printed-directions” recipe; slice the figs with a cross cut on the stem end or cut them in half. Top them with your favorite local chevre, ricotta, feta or goat cheese and then drizzle with honey. Serve them as an evening appetizer of for breakfast, brunch or a midday snack. It is my personal experience, that they disappear almost as fast as you can make them.
The Fig-eliciousness that Awaits
Short of eating them “au natural”, figs are best paired with other Mediterranean flavors such as pistachios, olives, olive oil, honey and oranges. What’s not to love? And, you’ll be happy to know the rich sweet taste also pairs well with dark brown liquors.
Lets start with that last thing, first. This next recipe idea came to me in a dream. Ok, so not really; but I wanted to work in this next heading…
Was it a Fig-ment of my imagination?
Once or twice a year I make homemade lemoncello. We love and enjoy it on the rocks, straight up for cocktails and over ice cream and local peaches for dessert! Suddenly it came to me that I might try the same recipe with a few of my favorite summer fruits, namely peaches, watermelon and figs. I’m not the first person to have done it, but it was a first time for me and of course, I wanted to keep it local. I think the number of variations on this theme are only limited by one’s imagination. With a host of flavorful local liquor to choose from and the wonderful local harvest of fresh fruit this year, the possible list of combinations are endless
Here is How it’s Done
The original recipe for lemoncello is pretty easy, all you need is lemons, simple syrup Everclear and time.
Take 12 lemons and peel them. Add the peels to a half gallon of Everclear and let the mixture stand for a couple of weeks. Strain the Everclear and mix with a half gallon of simple syrup. Refrigerate and viola!
For the Figs Filled Version
I applied the same principles to the fresh figs; but as figs are sweet I needed to add in acidity. I cut up about a dozen sweet fresh figs – this is a great way to use overripe figs – and put them in a 2 cup Mason jar, then filled the jar to the top with TOPO Aged Oak Whiskey from Chapel Hill, NC.
I am thinking when I do peaches for peach-cello, I will try it with Chemist Distillery Navy Strength Gin from Asheville NC. Stay tuned for the peachy keen results. Both of these award winning local liquors are available in the local section of North Carolina ABC stores. #TellThemHeidiSentYou
I let the figs sit in the Whiskey for 2 weeks. Then, I made a simple syrup with the juice and zest of one orange, 3-4 drops of TOPO Distillery Spiced Orange Bitters, available directly from the distillery. The orange zest and the bitters were the perfect touch of acid to all the sweet. Then, for fun, I added a teaspoon of cardamon, 1 1/2 cups of water and 2 cups of organic sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil; turn down the heat and continue to summer 10 minutes or until the mix starts to get syrupy and thick. Feel free to adjust the flavors to suit your own tastes. Allow the syrup to cool.
Then, add the cooled orange syrup to the fig infused liquor. Refrigerate for about a week. The longer your Figcello sits it the refrigerator the more mellow it becomes. Enjoy it chilled straight up with a wedge of orange – delish!
PS – For fun, drizzle it over ice cream, its the bomb!!
Heidi’s From the Farm Tart with Summer Figs
Pie crust for one 9-10 inch pie or tart pan. Use your favorite recipe or your favorite refrigerated brand. You’ll only need crust for one pie, but before you start, visit this post first to see several fun ways you might top your tart with a second crust.
12-15 fresh ripe figs, cut in half lengthwise
Zest of one orange
1 cup organic sugar
2-3 local duck or chicken eggs ( duck eggs make the tart richer and creamier)
1 cup organic heavy cream
Brown Sugar to finish
Roll out the finished pie crust large enough to fit in a false bottomed 9-10 inch tart pan. Arrange the figs, cut side up in the crust. In a separate bowl mix the eggs and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the heavy cream and blend well. Pour the egg/cream mixture over the figs. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 20-25 minutes or until the top of the pie starts to brown nicely. Remove from oven and sprinkle the top with brown sugar. Cool. Cut into wedges and serve topped with real whipped cream!
Pro Tip – Did you know you can make your own brown sugar in small batches as needed? That way it never gets hard or dried out. Simply combine 1 cup of organic sugar with 2 Tablespoons of Local North Carolina Sorghum Syrup Molasses. Stir until all of the sorghum syrup dissolves into the sugar. And there you have it – homemade brown sugar! Add more sugar or molasses as needed until you get the correct consistency. You’re gonna love it!Heidi Billotto
Fig -getaboutit Fig Paste
Even if you never make these cookies or handpies, you need to make this fig paste. The beauty is it works with ripe figs and when we have passed the short but sweet season of fresh figs, it works with dried figs as well. You’ll want to use it in and on everything. It’s what I call a fig paste. I’ve got a pair of recipes to share with you here. The first recipe is salty, and the second sweet – both are delicious.
To make the fig paste: take about a pound ripe figs, stem them and cut them in half or quarter them. Place them in a saucepan with just enough water to barely cover them. bring to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer until the figs soften. Strain the figs well to remove most of the water but not all of the juices and puree just until smooth in food processor fitted with the metal blade. Freeze the puree for later use or use as directed in either of the following recipes.
As I mentioned earlier, the sweet sticky taste of figs is a delicious foil to the salty taste of olives. What better way to start a summer dinner than with a fig and olive spread served on crackers, toasted sweet potatoes ( just thick sliced and toast them in your toaster or oven – go ahead, try it, you’ll be glad you did!), or on toasted sliced of French bread.
Heidi’s Olive and Figs Tapenade
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pitted dry cured black olives
2 Tbsp. capers
1/2 cup fresh minced flat leaf parsley
Zest of one lemon
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup Heidi’s Fig-GetAboutIt homemade fig paste
Mix all ingredients in small bowl to blend. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)
“Better Than The Other Guy” Fig Cookies
I couldn’t complete this post without some sort of fig cookie. I won’t name names here, but growing up I honestly didn’t love the standard fig bar – you know which one I mean, just didn’t love the crust. These days, I find myself obsessed with hand pies and absolutely adore a light flaky pie crust wrapped around some sort of sweet filling. Use my pie crust referenced in the tart recipe in this post, cut it onto circles to make mini hand pies or these melt-in-your-mouth fig bar cookies – the perfect sweet salute to the summer’s fabulous fig season!
pie crust – use your favorite recipe, your favorite refrigerated brand or use my favorite from scratch recipe – you’ll only need enough for one pie
1 recipe of Heidi’s fig paste ( see directions above)
2-3 Tbsp. local honey
1 tsp. dried ground cardamon
Pinch of salt
3/4 cup ground pistachios ( maybe more depending on the consistency of your fig paste)
2 tsp. vanilla
1 local egg beaten and blended with 1 Tbsp. of water to make an egg wash
Here’s What to Do
Roll out the pie crust and cut into 3 inch circles or into a rectangle approx. 9 inches long by 6 inches wide. Don’t sweat it if your measurements are a little off. Reserve
Combine the fig past with the honey, cardamom, salt, vanilla and ground pistachios and blend well.
Brush the rounds of pie crust with some of the egg wash, taking care to lightly coat the whole round. Spoon a bit of the sweetened fig paste into the center of each of the rounds. Fold the round in half and pinch the sides to seal. crimp with a fork and them gently make three slits in each half. Brush with the egg wash once again. Place the semi circular mini hand pies on a parchment lined baking sheet.
Take the rectangle of dough and brush the edges with the egg wash. Fill he center with the sweet fig paste. Fold the edges up and over the filling and pinch the ends and side to seal. Place seam side down on a parchment lined baking sheet. Make small crosswise cuts in the top of the crust every inch or so – this will allow for easier cutting after the bars have baked.
Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown, Cool on rack before eating. Its hard to wait, but they really are better if they’ve had a bit of rest time after baking is done.
Once the long cookie roll has cooled a bit, use a chef’s knife to cut along the marks you made before baking to cut the bar into fig filled cookies.
Don’t Miss A Single Bite of the Deliciousness
Thanks so much for the read! If you liked the post, be sure to tell your friends about me! And don’t forget to subscribe to HeidiBillottoFood.com so that each new blog post comes directly to your inbox as soon as it goes live. You can be expecting lots of info on local products, recipes and tips for some fun food-centric travel; and get the scoop on what local chefs and restaurants are cooking up, as well. You’re gonna love it all. #TellThemHeidiSentYou