I adore figs. Green, black, brown, Turkish, I don't care! Just give me sweet, seedy, jammy figs and I am a happy girl. Today I don't eat many foods from my childhood, but figs for some reason have always possessed staying power. I grew up in a small craftsman-style house built in the early 1900's. It was a sweet little home with two beds and built-in cabinets, perfect for a young couple, which is exactly what my parents were when I came into the picture. Our backyard was not huge but it did have a few good fruits to bare, one of which was an enormous Haas avocado tree that dropped fruit the size of my head. Rich, thick and creamy, we ate them every chance we could, usually as guacamole, though sometimes I caught my mom sticking tablespoonfuls directly into her mouth. There was also a tangerine tree, a peach tree, a Meyer lemon tree and wild mint that we mashed with sugar and hot water to make "mint tea" (though in reality it was more like warm simple syrup with mint essence. Ah kids!)
My favorite however was the fig tree. Placed right next to our rickety (and definitely dangerous) swing set, it was in a prime location for me to swing over and grab an unsuspecting fig any time I wanted. I waited all year for that tree to bloom and when it did, I went crazy! I averaged a good 12 figs a day. At first I went for the ones at eye level, but as the summer progressed and those thinned out, I needed help getting my fig fix. I begged my Dad to come help me grab the luscious ripe ones that stared down at me from their high perch. "I'll get you my pretty!" I thought as I glared back at them. But one sunny Summer afternoon, I found myself in the middle of a major fig meltdown with no one to help me. I needed a fig bad and I simply couldn't wait for parental assistance, so I bravely decided to climb the tree. This was an emergency after all! It wouldn't have been so bad had there not been copious amounts of sap and ants lining the tree. I'd hated ants ever since my 6th birthday when I accidentally swallowed one that decided to take a nap on the lip of my 7-UP can. EEEEWWWW!!!
The ants had multiple trails going up and down the trunk and on every branch of the precious fig tree. Apparently, they too were all about figs. As I climbed the tree I kept thinking, "No ants in my mouth, just not in my mouth!" I gingerly picked as many figs as my left hand could hold as my right tightly gripped a sturdy-looking branch. However, the tricky part was not the climb or even picking the fruit, but getting down with two handfuls of sticky, split figs. I awkwardly descended, trying not to cause any accidents among the many ant highways. But wherever my hands touched the tree, eager ants assumed they were other branches and immediately hopped on. They seemed to have no problem with detours. With hands full of melty figs and arms covered with ants, I simply couldn't take it any more. I took a deep breath, said a quick prayer, and jumped. The ground was not as springy or soft as I'd imagined, and I hit the grass with a decided thud. Granted, I'd jumped down maybe 2 1/2 feet but it seems pretty dangerous at the time. I actually managed to save most of the figs though some were greatly damage by my now tightly closed fist. I rolled onto my back and looked up at the fig tree. "That's right fig tree," I yelled. "Who's the boss now?!" I rested my head on the grass and popped a glistening fig into my mouth. It somehow tasted sweeter than it ever had before. Perhaps it was my brush with death, or the simple fact it had had more time to ripen. Either way that fig was amazing and it felt good to have risked life and limb for it. I was a food hero! And there I stayed, spread out on the grass, feeling wonderful about myself and barely feeling the ants navigating their way up and down my arms.
Best ways to eat figs
1) Throw them on the grill until the jammy center begins to caramelize
2) Stuff with a small piece of goat cheese and fresh thyme
3) Stuff with a thin piece of prosciutto, and top with mint and drizzle with a bit of balsamic vinegar
4) Split them open and smear with almond butter
5) Thinly slice and lay them over an arugula and basil salad with shaved Parmesan
6) Slice and put on a pizza with goat cheese, shaved fennel, and caramelized onions
7) Place them directly in your mouth a chew (My favorite!)