Sweet and fleeting, fresh figs remind us to slow down and enjoy the moment. I'll take you on a tour of the different kinds of figs you might find for sale, and show you how to enjoy fresh figs right now — plus how to freeze them for later.

By Emily Paster
July 15, 2019
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Every year, when I spy the first fresh figs at my local market, I get a bit giddy. Fresh figs bear little resemblance to the sticky fig paste I recall from the Fig Newtons of my childhood. The plump, dumpling-shape fruits have skins ranging from soft yellow and pale green to inky purple. Their luscious, rosy flesh is like nothing else, with a floral edge and a honeyed sweetness that's heavenly with creamy cheeses, peppery greens, or a fiery kiss from the grill.

And unlike so many other fruits shipped from afar these days, figs are truly fleeting: In most parts of the country, you'll only find a good variety of fresh figs during a narrow window of the year — right about now and into the fall. They do not ripen off the tree, withstand long voyages, or keep long after picking. They demand to be plucked ripe and eaten soon after.

In addition to being a truly seasonal delight, figs have a long and storied history. Ancient Greeks and Romans revered fig trees as symbols of abundance, fertility, and sweetness. Early Olympic athletes even used figs as a training food. In Jewish culture, they are particularly holy because they were one of the seven staples Jews ate in Israel during biblical times.

Fig season also generally coincides with the Jewish New Year celebration, Rosh Hashanah (September 18–20 this year). Many Rosh Hashanah celebrations begin with fruit or bread dipped into a dish of honey, sweet foods to symbolize hope for a sweet new year. And what fruit pairs especially well with honey? Figs, of course! Whether you are celebrating the Jewish New Year, the start of a new school year, or just looking for a sweet change of pace as summer yields to fall, now's the time to make the most of fresh figs.

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Fig Spotting

Figs are highly perishable, so be sure to choose fruits that are soft but not mushy or bruised, store them in the fridge, and enjoy or preserve them within a few days. Here are five common varieties and when they might hit a market near you.

Black Mission

With a dark purple exterior and rosy interior, Black Mission figs are the beauty queens of figs. Brought to California by Spanish missionaries in the 1700s, they have an earthy, wine-like sweetness. Available mid-May through November.

Illustration: Kane Hassebrock

Sierra

A newer variety developed in California, Sierras are large, green figs with a sweet, honeyed flavor. They're ideal for splitting and stuffing due to their size. Available June through November.

Illustration: Kane Hassebrock

Kadota

The most common green fig, Kadotas are shaped like a teardrop and are pinkish-brown inside. They have fewer seeds and are less sweet than other varietals. Available mid-June through October.

Illustration: Kane Hassebrock

Brown Turkey

Usually the last figs standing at the end of the season, Brown Turkeys are pear-shape with a brown exterior, a reddish interior, and a mild, slightly floral flavor. Available May through December.

Illustration: Kane Hassebrock

Calimyrna Figs

Pale yellow in color and traced back to Turkey, Calimyrna figs have a nutty, buttery flavor. Available July through September.

Illustration: Kane Hassebrock

5 Fast Fig Facts

  1. Though we think of them as fruit, figs are actually flowers turned inward: The small, soft seeds inside are the real fruit.
  2. Figs grow in warm climates and prefer hot, dry summers and cool-but-not-cold, wet winters.
  3. In northern climates, you might see them as potted plants or small ornamental trees that can be brought indoors.
  4. Where it's warm enough for them to overwinter in the ground, they can quickly grow to 30 feet tall.
  5. A little scarring on fig skins is normal — it happens naturally when leaves rub against the growing fruit. It doesn't damage the flesh inside.
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How to Freeze Fresh Figs

If you have more figs than you can use quickly and don't feel like making fig preserves or fresh fig freezer jam, you can freeze them for up to six months and use them in smoothies, cooked sauces, or baked goods. Here's how to freeze figs two different ways:

1. Individual, quick-freeze method

Wash them thoroughly and, setting aside any that are very soft, space them out on a wax-paper-lined baking sheet in the freezer. When they're completely frozen, transfer to freezer bags.

2. Sugared freezer method

You can also peel them, quarter or slice them, and combine them with sugar (1 cup sugar to 5 cups fruit) before packing and freezing in tightly covered freezer containers.

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Fig Recipes to Try

1. Burrata Bruschetta with Figs

Figs soften but don't ripen after picking. If those at your market are a little under ripe or firm, grilling them like Chef John does here (we found charcoal works best) is just the ticket to sweeten them up.

Blaine Moats

2. Fig-Thyme Smash

A hint of thyme adds an earthiness that balances the sweetness of the figs and the rum in this pretty, easy-sipping cocktail. To keep it from tasting medicinal, I use the thyme only as a fragrant garnish.

Blaine Moats

3. Fig and Honey Galette

Honey often appears at Rosh Hashanah celebrations as a way to express hope for sweetness in the year to come. In this dessert — a fitting end to any High Holiday celebration — honey-sweetened mascarpone cheese provides a creamy base for fresh figs.

Pastry-phobic? Relax! A free-form, rustic galette (which Italians call a crostata) is much easier to make than a pie. And, in my opinion, it has just the right ratio of pastry to fruit.

Photo: Blaine Moats
Blaine Moats

4. Orange, Fig, and Gorgonzola Salad with Citrus-Honey Vinaigrette

Fresh figs turn an ordinary salad into dinner-party fare. Romaine works as a neutral canvas, but you could also use peppery arugula, bitter radicchio, or a combination of the three. Just be sure to add the figs after you toss the salad, so as not to bruise their skin.

Blaine Moats

5. Fig Smoothies

Figs have a notoriously short shelf life. They're also high in fiber, calcium, and potassium. So a smoothie is a smart way to use ripe-but-going-south-fast figs, not to mention those bananas from your freezer.

Blaine Moats

6. Fresh Figs and Chicken Thighs in Shallot-Balsamic Reduction

Here's a one-pot meal that's perfect for weeknight dinners or entertaining guests. Chicken thighs and fresh figs are simmered in shallot-balsamic reduction sauce.

Bibi

7. Grilled Chicken with Fig Chutney

A sweet-and-sour fig chutney elevates plain grilled chicken breasts for a nicer-than-usual family dinner or even a holiday celebration. Any leftover chutney makes a great addition to a cheese board or a sandwich. Thanks to all the vinegar in it, this chutney will keep awhile in the fridge, helping you extend fig season just a smidge.

Blaine Moats

Easy No-Grill Appetizer

Arrange fig halves, cut sides up, on a foil-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle each with ½ tsp. Demerara sugar. Melt and caramelize the sugar with a kitchen torch. Alternately, broil figs on a rack 3 to 4 inches from broiler until sugar melts and caramelizes, about 2 minutes. Arrange figs on a serving platter around a ball of burrata cheese. Drizzle cheese with extra-virgin olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper, and garnish with thinly sliced fresh basil. (Burrata is a fresh mozzarella ball that's filled with cream and soft curds. When it's sliced open, the goodness inside spills out. You can usually find it near the tubs of fresh mozzarella.)

Blaine Moats

Related: Check out our collection of Fig Recipes.

This article originally appeared in the August/September 2019 issue of Allrecipes Magazine.