At farmers markets and supermarkets alike, you may be seeing different varieties of figs cropping up this time of year. Or, if you’re friends with someone like me, you’re being handed a pound or two of extremely ripe figs by someone exclaiming, “Take these off my hands! My dog keeps eating the ones that fall off the giant tree in my yard and getting digestive problems so I have to pick them all before they fall and can’t use all of them!”
So, what do you do with these mild, sweet, quickly rotting treasures?
During my time as that person with the big tree and the dumb dog, I have learned that some people are very, very scared of figs. They don’t know how to eat them, they think they’re creepy and alien-looking on the inside (they totally are), and they don’t appreciate when I puppeteer one like Audrey II in their face, making fun of them for being scared of a fruit.
Mostly, people are nervous because of the rumor that all figs are made of dead wasps, which dissolve in the center of each and every fruit, creating a crunchy surprise when you unsuspectingly bite through a juicy fig. I assure you, this theory has been debunked: most figs you find in stores (or my yard) are not built on the corpses of wasps. Try, them, Sam-I-Am, and you may like green figs and…ham?
Mostly, people don’t know how to eat figs. We have some suggestions.
Like my dog, you can just eat them raw, skin and all. Or you can bust them open and and just suck out the interior flesh, which I actually saw someone do on a date and it was not a great look and then I remembered this was absolutely a plot point on Sex and the City because figs are a notorious aphrodisiac but apparently not for Charlotte and not for me (ugh, I knew I was a Charlotte).
To jazz up a plain fig, plop it in your yogurt and granola, or drizzle some balsamic vinegar on it, or or eat it with any soft, tangy cheese and a little honey. A quick pan fry will caramelize them, and you can spread them on a crusty baguette or piece of toast—but all of this is optional. They’re delightful all on their own.
I’m too lazy to make jam, plus I don’t trust myself to do it right in terms of sterilizing the jars and whatnot. However, I make things easier by following a recipe for fig jam, putting it in clean jelly jars, screwing a lid on each one, and handing them to people with a note that says, “This is not shelf stable. Put it in your fridge and eat it this week.” So-called refrigerator jam is perhaps closer to a compote, but it’s a great way to use up all those figs.
Some variations on jam recipes I’ve tried are this one, which, if you don’t mash it up too much, is actually a recipe for fig preserves. This one from The Spruce Eats is the simplest and instructs you on how to can it properly if you so choose. Honestly, sometimes I’ll wing it, especially if I have an abundance of figs and want to make a pretty mild compote.
You can put the whole mix into a blender or food processor (in batches) to get it to the consistency you like, but I prefer an immersion blender for fig jam. If they’re super-duper ripe figs, you might be able to get away with stirring it down to the consistency you like or could use a potato masher in a pinch.
I use the jam in a regular ol’ PB&J, but it’s also really good to add to a charcuterie board along with a mix of savory and sweet meats and cheeses. It tastes great with brie and goat cheese in particular, but I’ve tried it with a few different combinations and have never been displeased. Fig jam is mild enough that it doesn’t overpower the other flavors.
Fig butter is different from fig jam but has a similar vibe. It’s made of figs, sugar, and butter, and can be used as a spread like jam or butter, giving it a versatility you may be craving.
I love quick baking projects and figs are a good moistener (sorry I said moist) for baked goods.
Fig bars are a delicious and easy way to use some of that jam you just made. I know there’s some debate about Fig Newtons in general, but I really enjoyed this homemade kind and ate them for breakfast and after lunch for a few weeks during peak fig season. You can attempt a fig tart if you’re feeling fancy or need to impress someone.
Figs are a good addition to a cobbler or crumble, especially when mixed with other seasonal fruits like blackberries. My favorite cookbook from PNW bakers, Rustic Fruit Desserts, has some good uses for peak-season figs and their in-season friends.
Fig quick bread is what I make most often with overripe figs; occasionally I’ll incorporate a batch of fig jam that turned out too watery. I prefer recipes that include nuts to give it a cozy fall feel.
Figs, though sweet, pair well in non-dessert dishes because they balance out big, bold savory flavors. They’re easy to roast in the oven, but you will have to keep an eye on them because figs vary a lot in size and roasting time will vary based on that.
Toss roasted (or fresh) figs into a savory salad, or mix them in with your vegetable side at dinnertime. I like them chopped up on a homemade pizza with goat cheese and garlic.
Overall, the fig is one of those fruits that always looks really fancy but tastes really mild, so it’s a crowd pleaser. Now please, send me a crowd that can take all these ripe figs off my hands.