Figs a farmers’ market treat in season

Aug. 31, 2013 @ 11:09 AM

Shopping for food at farmers markets has lots of advantages, but one of the best perks is finding foods that aren’t available in grocery stores Figs are one of those foods, and right now, figs are at the height of their short season.

This year, the local figs season got a late start.  As it has for many crops this summer, the cool, rainy weather has slowed the growth and ripening of figs. For some farmers, their fig crops are ripening two weeks later than last year. Figs need bright, sunny weather to ripen well. So, if the weather cooperates, we’ll see figs at local markets for the next couple of weeks.

Why are figs a farmers’ market specialty? Figs have tender skin that bruises easily, so they don’t travel or store well. Figs can’t survive long trips in refrigerated trucks or weeks of storage. Figs are really at their best when eaten straight off the tree, so the next best thing is figs that are grown on local farms and picked on the same day that you buy them.

Recently, during the Durham Farmers’ Market Wednesday Market, I asked a number of farmers how they like to enjoy figs besides eating them straight. Judy Lessler of Harlands Creek Farm smiled at the question and said, “That’s the only way that I eat them! But, they are also good with cheese.”

So, I asked Portia McKnight of Chapel Hill Creamery to recommend a good cheese to eat with figs. She recommended her Farmers Cheese, which she described as having “a tangy, clean, refreshing, milky flavor.”

Finally, I talked to Renee Clayton from Wild Scallions Farm and she had lots of ideas!

Renee likes to make simple fig compotes. To make her compote, she takes a pint of figs, quarters them, cooks them down in a saucepan with a splash of red wine until you have a thick jam-like consistency. Another tasty compote she makes is mixing some honey, lemon and toasted sesame seeds with the quartered figs. Cook this mixture down to a jam like consistency. Renee says these compotes are “good on everything!”

A fig-loving customer of Renee’s says that figs freeze well. To freeze, place figs on a cookie sheet and place in freezer until frozen. Then combine them in a freezer bag. Besides enjoying a yummy frozen fig during the winter months, Renee told me that you could use the frozen figs to make fig ice cream. To make a single serving of instant fig ice cream, take 2 or 3 frozen figs and blend them with some cream and enjoy!

However you enjoy figs, Renee says, “Get ‘em now! They won’t last long!”

Farm tour coming up

Mark your calendars for the Eastern Triangle Farm Tour on the weekend of September 21 & 22. You can visit 27 local farms and see some impressively large fig trees!

For information, visit www.CarolinaFarmStewards.org/etft.

Erin Kauffman is market manager of the Durham Farmers’ Market. The market is open from 3 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays and 8 a.m. to noon Saturday’s at Durham Central Park in downtown Durham.