Until recently, figs typically appeared at our farmers markets in the fall, sometimes as early as Labor Day, sometimes a bit later. In recent years, we’ve been seeing them earlier and earlier.
It is not, as some of us have assumed, a result of global warming or climate change. According to Charles Imwalle of Imwalle Gardens in Santa Rosa, there are typically two crops: a small one that ripens in June and July from fruit that sets in early spring, and another, larger crop that yields fruit from September through November.
This year, figs have been at our farmers markets for weeks. but there will likely be a break of a few weeks before the fall harvest is ready. Enjoy them now or wait a while.
If you do not have a palate that tends to prefer sweeter foods, you might not enjoy figs right off the tree, in tarts or jam, or in salads. Even wrapped in bacon and grilled, figs can be too sweet for many of us.
We’re talking, of course, about fresh figs, not dried figs, which needs to be said because a lot of people are familiar only with the dried version. The Black Mission fig is the most common one in Sonoma County, though there are plenty of white Calimyrna figs, too, which have pale green skin. Both work in today’s recipes. Dried figs do not.
Nutritionally, fresh figs have much to recommend them, including substantial quantities of calcium, iron, Vitamin B6,and magnesium. Two ripe figs have about 74 calories. Five dried figs weigh in with about 260 calories; they are higher in fiber than fresh figs.
When enjoying figs in a savory context, some of the best companions are pork, poultry, cheese, yogurt and cured meats.
Raita is a traditional Indian condiment typically served with curries. It is also excellent with dal, rice dishes such as biryani, and both grilled and roasted poultry and meat. Add a dollop atop soups — chilled zucchini soup, for example.
Makes about 1 cup
2-3 figs, cut into very small dice
1 garlic clove, crushed and minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed lemon juice
— Kosher salt
— Black pepper in a mill
— Pinch of red pepper flakes, optional
3/4 cup whole milk yogurt, such as Straus or Bellwether Farms
Put the figs into a medium bowl, add the garlic, cilantro, and lemon juice and season with a pinch or two of salt and several turns of black pepper. Add the red pepper flakes, if using. Toss gently, cover, and set aside for 10 minutes or so.
Stir the yogurt to loosen it, add it to the fig mixture, and fold together gently but thoroughly. Taste and correct for salt, pepper, and acid balance.
Use right away or store, covered, in the refrigerator for a day or two.
This sandwich is greater than the sum of its parts, though its parts are, on their own, quite good. But the alchemy between them makes each ingredient soar. Use the best baguette you can find, such as Nightingale Bakery, Raymond’s Bakery or Costeaux. You can, of course, use any bread to make this sandwich so if you prefer, say, Revolution Bread, have at it. You’ll need to adjust quantities, of course, but that’s an easy thing. And if you don’t care for chevre, use farmer’s cheese, teleme, brie or even old-fashioned cream cheese instead.