Figs have been around for centuries and are part of Fresno's lore, but they still remain somewhat of a mystery to some people.
"What do I do with them?" is often what people say when given a basket of fresh figs.
Karla Stockli, CEO of the Fresno-based California Fig Advisory Board, is used to the question and is fond of educating consumers about the wonders of figs, a fruit whose history goes back to the turn of the century in Fresno.
Back then, developer J.C. Forkner planted 6,000 acres of figs in the Fresno area to try to lure people into becoming fig farmers.
Fig fever grew, transforming the San Joaquin Valley into the center of the state's fig industry. That distinction remains today as Valley farmers produce several varieties of figs for the dried and fresh market.
Among the five most common figs are: black mission, brown turkey, Calimyrna, Kadota and Sierra. A newer, green-colored variety called Tiger is quickly gaining favor.
Stockli said the easiest thing to do with fresh or dried figs is eat them like you would any other fruit, skin and all. Chef Ryan Favini, of Vino and Friends Wine Store and Bistro in Fresno, likes using figs because of their complex flavors that work well in everything from savory food to desserts.
"You get a great jammy taste from mission figs and bright berry color and taste from the turkey figs," Favini says.
For home cooks, Favini says it's easy to use fresh figs in appetizers. The fruit's sweet taste and color works well with nuts and cheeses, such as blue, brie or goat.
Favini will showcase his fig-cooking skills at the upcoming Fig Feast on Thursday at the bistro, 1560 E. Champlain Drive. The Fig Advisory Board also plans other events this month.
Stockli says one of her favorite ways to cook fresh figs is to grill them. She slices a fig in half, lightly brushes olive oil on the cut side and dips them face down in some brown sugar. She them places the figs on a medium-hot grill or grill pan for about two minutes.
"The sugars from the fig get nice and caramelized and it is so good," Stockli says.
Blogger Rachel Hutchings, La Fuji Mama, enjoys the versatility of figs, saying you can use them in just about any cooking method you want from poaching to baking.
She has poached figs in a simple syrup to create what she calls "balls of juiciness." Hutchings also has used them in an open-faced tart with brie and prosciutto.
"The fig is able to take all the strong saltiness of the brie, but tones it down with a sweetness and fragrance," Hutchings says.
South Valley caterer Candace Screen of Ivanhoe has used figs in her cooking for years. For appetizers, she likes to slice a nice round Calimyrna in half and place a dollop of goat cheese, a dash of cracked pepper and a drizzle of honey.
She also makes fig chutney that she likes to use to top grilled or baked chicken.
"Figs have so many good flavors, that it is good to try and experiment with them," says Screen, owner of Candace's Catering and Personal Chef Services. "And they are also good, just as they are."
The California Fig Advisory Board is hosting the following events:
6-9 p.m. Thursday, Fig Feast, Vino & Friends, featuring Chef Ryan Favini. Tickets: $95
5:30-9 p.m. Friday, Fig Party at the Clovis Farmers Market, including culinary demonstrations, chef competition and food sampling. Cost: free.
6-8 p.m. Aug. 8, Whole Foods "Getting Figgy with It" cooking class with Chef Hillori Hansen. Tickets: $28, space limited.
10 a.m. to noon Aug. 10, Fig Throwdown chef competition, Vineyard Farmers Market. Tickets: $5 at the gate, space limited.
6-8 p.m. Aug. 15, Whole Foods "Getting Figgy with It" cooking class 2 with Chef Hillori Hansen. Tickets: $28, space limited.
For details and ticket information go to californiafigs.com
California fresh figs with gorgonzola and pickled shallots on crostini
Makes 8 servings
12 whole fresh figs; cut in half lengthwise (prefer brown turkey figs)
3 whole black peppercorns
1 orange peel
2 cup rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup salt
1/2 cup sugar
4 ounces gorgonzola
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
For the pickled shallots: Pickling liquid: Put rice wine vinegar, sugar, salt, whole black peppercorns and orange peel into small pot and simmer for 5 minutes. Peel shallots, slice paper thin rings into the hot pickling liquid and take off of burner.
Place gorgonzola in freezer for minimum 30 minutes. Using a peeler, slice 2-inch thin pieces of the cheese and place on top of the flesh of the fresh fig.
Slice baguette on a bias 1/2-inch thick and place on a sheet tray.
With a pastry brush, lightly brush olive oil on the top of each piece of baguette, then season with salt and fresh black pepper. In a 350 oven, toast crostinis for 5-7 minutes or until golden brown, remove from sheet tray and place on a serving platter to prevent further browning.
Place sliced fresh fig on top of crostini. Season with salt and pepper. Lay gorgonzola on top of fig. Drizzle extra virgin olive oil and the pickled shallots and serve immediately.
Dolce and black mission fig cheesecake with ginger crust
Makes 8 servings
For the cheesecake filling:
3 pounds cream cheese, room temperature
6 whole eggs
28 ounces sweet and condensed milk
1 cup cream
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon salt
12 whole ripe fresh figs (prefer black mission)
In cans, boil sweet and condensed milk for 2 hours to caramelize. Add all ingredients except figs into a bowl and whip on high until completely incorporated.
For the crust:
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons ground ginger
4 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
12 ounces room temperature butter
1/2 cup molasses
Combine all dry ingredients. In a mixing bowl on medium speed, combine sugar and butter until light. Add one egg at a time making sure to incorporate each time. Add molasses. Slowly add dry ingredients until completely combined.
Spread evenly on a sheet tray lined with parchment paper and bake at 350 degrees for 18-20 minutes until golden brown. Let cool completely, using your hands crumble the ginger snaps.
Melt 10 ounces butter. In a bowl, mix the crumbled ginger cookie and butter until it creates a soft crust. Place cookie mixture into a spring mold lined with plastic wrap and foil. Press into mold until crust comes together.
Pour cream cheese mixture into mold halfway up the springmold, place sliced figs gently on top of cheesecake mixture. Put springmold into a larger hotel pan and fill halfway up with warm water. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes at 400 degrees. Open oven and rotate, cover.
Bake for 10 minutes and check with a toothpick in 3 different areas until it comes out clean. Let cool outside of water bath on countertop.
With thin knife, slice a 2-inch-wide cut per person, and sprinkle some of the ginger crumble on top.
Fig, brie, and prosciutto tarts
Makes 4 tarts
1 sheet puff pastry (about 8.7 ounces)
4 ounces brie cheese
4 figs, sliced into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1 ounce prosciutto, cut into 2-inch-long pieces
Thaw the puff pastry sheet as directed on the package. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet or line with parchment paper.
When the puff pastry sheet has thawed, cut it into quarters. With a fork, prick the center of the puff pastry squares thoroughly with a fork.
Dot each square with small pieces of brie cheese. Lay the fig slices on top of the cheese, then lay several slices of prosciutto on top of everything.
Bake the tarts for 15 to 20 minutes until the pastry is golden brown. Serve.
Variations: Use goat cheese instead of brie. Add fresh herbs. Drizzle the tarts with honey. Makes 4 tarts
Makes 2 cups
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large red onion, peeled and finely diced
1/2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
juice and zest of one lemon
3/4 cup golden raisins
11/2 teaspoons mustard seeds
1 small cinnamon stick
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
large pinch red pepper powder
1 pound fresh figs, stemmed and diced
In a wide saucepan, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until translucent, which will take about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the remaining ingredients, except for the figs. Let cook at a steady simmer for 20 minutes, then add the figs, cover the pot, and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, until the figs are tender and cooked through.
Remove the lid and cook 10 to 15 minutes over low heat, stirring, until the mixture thickens and becomes jam-like.
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6327, email@example.com or @FresnoBeeBob on Twitter. Chef Ryan Favini, Vino and Friends, Fresno. Chef Ryan Favini, Vino and Friends Rachael Hutchings, La Fuji Mama Candace Screen, Candace's Catering