If you think you don’t give a fig about figs, you’ve probably never had a fresh one. A perfectly ripe Black Mission is a far cry from a Fig Newton. The leathery skin, tender flesh and crunchy seeds make for a textural trifecta unmatched in the edible world. So for a few months a year, make it your mission to find figs at the market (or, if you’re lucky, a nearby backyard).Originating in the Mediterranean, figs are one of our oldest cultivated crops. Some people even think they’re the fruit that caused the fall of man, but luckily for us, figs are no longer forbidden. In fact, when their short season is in full tilt in the Bay Area, it would almost be a sin not to indulge in this sweet fall treat.
Common Fig Varieties
Figs come in several varieties but the most common in the Bay Area are deep purple Missions or katydid-colored green Kadotas. When you cut them open, they boast bright clusters of tiny pink seeds, which guarantees a dazzling dessert-tray display. Choose figs whose slightly stretched skins are beginning to break open. Such extra-ripe specimens are literally bursting with sweet, rich and deep flavor. Figs are fragile, however, and don’t last long on the shelf, so if you see them sitting pretty at the farmer’s market, snatch them up. The ones in supermarkets tend to look a little sadder.
Karen Lucero of Lucero Organic Farms has had a small supply of figs that have been flirting with farmer’s market customers since the beginning of the season. Karen and her husband, Ben, specialize in Black Missions, with a few Kadotas mixed in. Karen is a fig aficianado, but notes the one downside to picking her own fresh figs: The tree’s milky sap irritates human skin. Go figure. Lucky for Bay Area fig lovers, Karen’s kindness overcomes the milk of figgish cruelty. Early risers might still find a few baskets of her figs at Berkeley and Oakland farmer’s markets.