Although considered a fruit, the fig is actually a flower that is inverted into itself. The seeds are drupes, or the real fruit. Figs are the only fruit to fully ripen and semi-dry on the tree.
For many years the fig has been used as a coffee substitute. The fruit contains a proteolytic enzyme that is considered as an aid to digestion and is used by the pharmaceutical industry.
This proteolytic enzyme, also known as ficin, primarily contained in the stem of the fruit, helps to break down tissue and was for many years the major ingredient in Adolph’s Meat Tenderizer. Because of its high alkalinity, it has been mentioned as beneficial to persons wishing to quit smoking.
Dried figs were first sold in a commercially manufactured cookie in 1892.
Figs contain a natural humectant – a chemical that will extend freshness and moistness in baked products.
Another chemical found in figs, Psoralens, has been used for thousands of years to treat skin pigmentation diseases. Psoralens that occur naturally in figs, some other plants and fungi, is a skin sensitizer that promotes tanning in the sun.
Figs are easy to grow in warm climates, but product their best fruit in Mediterranean climates with hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters. Although they are a subtropical species, mature trees are fully cold hardy to 15 or 20 degrees F. People who whish to grow figs outside their normal range must plant in containers or go to considerable efforts to protect them during the winter.
In the ground, fig plants can quickly reach 15 to 30 feet in height. The canopy can spread equally wide. The root system is typically very shallow without a taproot and can easily spread to three times the diameter of the canopy. Ideally, fig plants should have a well-drained loam soil with plenty of organic matter, but they will tolerate average to poor soil. Once they are established, they are somewhat drought tolerant (probably due to their very extensive and wide-ranging root system). Figs tolerate soils with pH ranging from 5.5 to 8.0. Growers with acidic soils should apply lime to bring the pH up to the fig’s preferred pH of 6.0 or 6.5. Alkaline soils will also support figs, if there are no black alkali deposits present.
Plants need plenty of sun (8 or more hours) and heat which helps ripen the fruit. Figs respond very well (better than most fruit trees) to heavy applications of manure and compost. Be sure not to apply fertilizers too late in the growing season since that would spur new growth that cannot harden off before winter. Apply 2 to 3 cups of a balanced (6-6-6 or 8-8-8) fertilizer with micro-nutrients three times a year to mature in-ground plants. If you grow figs in containers, we recommend a complete slow-release fertilizer like Osmocote. Follow the package directions. Organic growers should apply generous amounts of compost and a high-nitrogen fertilizer like cottonseed, soybean or alfalfa meal.
For the best fruit production, water your figs regularly during the growing season unless rainfall is adequate. Take care that the soil is not constantly soggy. When fall arrives, stop watering and allow your plants to harden off. A word of caution: heavy rains and excessive or sporadic watering may cause the fruit to split. The amount of splitting varies from variety to variety, but a good rule of thumb is that the riper the figs, the more they will split and sour.
Container culture can be successful if you are diligent about watering and feeding the plants. Remember that nutrients leach quickly from containers. The easiest approach is to use a hefty pot (15 gallons or larger) and let the figs grow 5 to 10 feet tall with regular annual pruning of tops and roots to control the size. In climates where winter temperatures fall below 15 to 20 degrees F, you will need to bring potted plants into an unheated garage or shed.
Day Length and Chilling Zones
Figs require full sunlight for maximum fruit production. When choosing a site for figs, select an area that has sun for most of the day or expect reduced performance from the trees. Early morning sun is particularly important to dry dew from the plants, thereby reducing the incidence of diseases. Figs are frost and freeze sensitive and perform best south of the 800-hour chilling zone. Mature figs which are fully dormant can endure temperatures of 10 degrees F with little damage.
Although figs can be grown in all types of soil, they do not tolerate poorly drained sites. Avoid sites and soils where water stands for more than 24 hours after a rain. In areas of poor drainage, roots receive insufficient oxygen which results in stunted growth and eventual death of the tree. Figs are relatively salt-tolerant and can be grown along the coast near brackish water.
Types of Figs
There are four distinct types of figs: Common Fig, Caprifig, Smyrna, and San Pedro.
Common Figs are the only figs significant to commercial growers in Texas. These figs develop parthenocarpically (without pollination) and are by far the most prevalent type of fig grown in Texas. The fruit does not have true seeds and is primarily produced on wood from the current season. Most varieties recommended for Texas are of the Common Fig type.
Caprifigs produce a small non-edible fruit; however, the flowers inside the Caprifig product pollen. This pollen is essential for fertilizing fruit of the Smyrna and San Pedro types. The pollen is transported from the Caprifig to the pollen-sterile types by a Blastophaga wasp. Commercial growers hang baskets of Blastophaga-infested Caprifigs so that the wasps can effectively fertilize the fruit. Caprifigs were grown successfully at Del Rio, Texas, as early as 1901.
Smyrna Fig varieties produce large edible fruit with true seeds. The Blastophaga wasp and Capriifigs are required for pollination and normal fruit development. If this fertilization process does not occur, fruit will not develop properly and will fall from the tree. Smyrna-type figs are commonly sold as dried figs.
San Pedro type figs bear two crops of fruit in one season – one crop on the previous season’s growth and a second crop on current growth. The first crop, called the Breba crop, is parthenocarpic and does not require pollination. Fruit of the second crop is the Smyrna type and requires pollination from the Caprifig. Breba crops are produced early in the spring on last season’s wood. However, the second crop of Smyrna type may fail to set because of lack of pollination from Blastophaga and Caprifig. This second crop fruit drop frequently discourages homeowners.
California’s Fresh Fig Season starts in mid-May and continues through mid-December. With California’s excellent climate and exquisite soil for fig production you can see why California Figs are a fantastic fruit. Mainly, four varieties of Fresh Figs are produced in California. They are Brown Turkey, Black Mission, Kadota and Calimyrna.
Orders for Fresh Figs are hand picked on a daily basis. So we suggest that you contact one of the producer, packer, shippers prior to the season to establish available dates to reserve your California Fresh Figs.
Fresh Brown Turkey Figs are available mid-May through December.
They are a light purple to black skinned fig with pink flesh and a robust flavor.
Fresh Black Mission Figs are available mid-May through November.
They are a purple to black skinned fig with pink flesh and an intense earthy flavor.
Fresh Kadota Figs are available June to October.
They have a creamy amber color when ripe with a light delicate flavor.
Fresh Calimyrna Figs are available July through September.
They are large pale yellow skinned figs with a nutty, sweet flavor.
During a normal year, Brown Turkey figs may be available as early as late-May and on through December. The season for first crop fresh Mission figs grown in the San Joaquin Valley begins in early to mid-June and lasts approximately two weeks. The second crop of Mission figs, as well as other varieties including Calimyrna and Kadota figs, is available about mid-July.
Orders for Fresh Figs are hand picked on a daily basis. We suggest you contact one of these shippers prior to the season to establish available dates and to order Fresh Figs.
During a normal year, the season for first crop fresh Mission figs grown in the San Joaquin Valley begins in early to mid June and lasts approximately two weeks. The second crop of Mission figs, as well as other varieties, including Calimyrna and Kadota figs are available mid-July. Brown Turkey figs may be available as early as late-May through December. Orders for fresh figs are hand picked on a daily basis. We suggest you contact a shipper prior to the season to establish available dates and to reserve fresh figs.
DeBenedetto Fruit Co., LLC
PO Box 9760
Fresno, CA 93794
E-mail to: [email protected]
26393 Road 22 ½
Chowchilla, CA 93610
E-mail to: [email protected]
K&W FARMS, INC
73-286 Bursera Way
Palm Desert, CA 92260
Fax: 760 398-3810
Western Fresh Marketing
PO Box 6057
Los Osos, CA 93412
21801 Ave 16 #101
Madera, CA 93637
Fresh Figs are very perishable and should be kept refrigerated. The skin is fragile, and often scars during the growing period from the leaves rubbing against the fruit. These marks do not hurt the flesh inside at all. Recommended storage temperature is 32 to 36 degrees F or 0 to 2 degrees C. Use figs as soon as possible. Under ideal conditions, fresh figs will store for as long as 5 to 7 days, or frozen in a sealed bag or container for up to 6 months.
In the dry warm climates where figs are produced commercially, the figs are allowed to partially dry on the trees. To sun dry small quantities at home, wash the figs, cut away any imperfections and cut fruit in half lengthwise. Line the bottoms of well-ventilated boxes, wire racks or sheets of screening with a double layer of cheesecloth. Arrange a single layer of fruit in each so that pieces are not touching and set in full sun elevated several inches above the ground. Cover with tuille netting, tightly tucking the netting underneath the rack or screening to keep out insects.
If the nighttime temperature does not drop more than 20 degrees below the noontime temperature and the night air remains dry, racks may be left outdoors. Otherwise, it is advisable to dry figs indoors.
Turn the figs each morning. When the pieces are reduced in size and the skins are leathery, cut one open. If the inside is just slightly sticky, the figs should be heat-treated by placing in an oven at 110 to 115 degrees F for about 2 hours if they are to be stored for very long. Then, cool and place in airtight containers and store in a cool, dry place or place in tightly closed plastic bags and store in the freezer.
In more humid climates, oven drying is recommended. Wash the figs, cut away any imperfections and cut fruit in half lengthwise. Arrange a single layer of fruit on foil-lined baking sheets so that pieces are not touching and place in oven set at lowest temperature, 110-115 degrees F. Leaving oven door ajar and turning heat off and on to avoid heating figs above 135 degrees F keep figs in oven or dry at intervals turning them occasionally until they are reduced to about 1/4 their fresh weight. Cool and store immediately in airtight containers in a cool, dry place or place in plastic bags and store in the freezer.
When using a dehydrator, wash and cut the figs into 1/4-inch slices, discarding ends and any imperfections. Arrange on screens and place in dehydrator with the temperature set at 110-115 degrees F for 12 to 24hours, turning when dry enough not to tear and again before completely dry. Check dryness according to taste, but dry enough to prevent mold. When properly dried, figs are pliable but not wet, Cool before using or storing in airtight containers in a cool, dry place or in plastic bags in the freezer.
Individually quick frozen Fresh Figs will keep up to 3 months in the freezer. Just wash thoroughly, sort any very soft ones to eat immediately, arrange whole ripe figs, well separated, on a wax paper-lined baking sheet and freeze. When frozen solid, transfer to resealable plastic bags. Thaw and eat as desired.
To store for longer periods, chill thoroughly to facilitate peeling, if desired. Then, slice or quarter figs and combine 5 cups of figs with 1 cup of sugar and mix well. Pack in freezer containers; cover tightly, freeze and store in freezer for up to 6 months.
If preferred, figs may be packed in syrup. Just combine 1 cup of sugar with 1 quart of water and heat to dissolve completely. Cool and pour over figs which have been prepared and packed in freezer containers, leaving at least 1-inch head space to allow for expansion while freezing.
Freezing will change the texture and the figs will be much softer when thawed. They are very good, but many prefer to simmer them in a sweet or savory liquid to serve. Or they may be sweetened, cooked and puréed before freezing to serve as toppings for ice cream, puddings and other desserts.
Succulent and sweet, fresh California figs are plentiful in the summer just like many other fruits.
Bite-size – nothing is as delicious for out-of-hand eating or has the robust flavors of Black Mission and Brown Turkey figs or the sweet nuttiness of the Calimyrna or the delicate sweetness of the Kadota.
Fresh figs are so delicious, no cooking is necessary Just enjoy their naturally sweet goodness by itself, pair with your favorite cheeses, drizzle with a delicious dipping sauce, or simply add balance to your savory salsas and chutneys.
For a late summer salad, arrange a good amount of arugula on a large platter and layer melon slices and fig halves or quarters on top. Then, sprinkle toasted pine nuts over all and drizzle with a vinaigrette made by whisking 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice with 1-1/2 teaspoons champagne or white wine vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil.
Make an attractive appetizer platter arranged with prosciutto slices folded like napkins or rosettes, halved figs, clusters of raspberries, and lime wedges. Sprinkle with lime juice and basil chiffonade and dust with freshly ground black pepper. Serve with crostini or other good crusty bread and wine.
Simmer 12 Fresh California Figs, peeled if you like, in 3/4 cup sugar dissolved in 1-1/4 cups water for 10 minutes and serve with cream to make 4 people very happy at breakfast time.
California Fresh Figs are so delicious, they can be integrated into almost every course for family meals or used to add flare and elegance to any party or guest meal, too. They not only add taste and excitement to almost every course of a meal, but they can come to the table at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and in between times, too.
For breakfast, halve the figs lengthwise; drizzle with honey and broil until bubbling. Serve hot or cooled. These make great appetizers, too, garnished with a small scoop of soft cheese like mascarpone and a tiny mint leaf.
Wrap each fig in a strip of pancetta or proscuitto and thread onto skewers to cook on the grill.
Stuff California Fresh Figs with toasted almonds or walnuts. Cut a slit into the side of small figs and stuff in the nutmeats.
Halve large figs; add a bit of blue cheese or chèvre to the cut side and sprinkle with chopped nuts. Arrange on baking sheet and pop under the broiler for a few seconds just to heat through.
Quarter or slice California Fresh Figs and arrange with slices of fresh peaches, pears, or nectarines on lettuce leaves. Drizzle with fruity vinaigrette and enjoy.
Quarter one or two fresh figs per serving, but do not cut all the way through. Spread to make stars and top with your favorite crab or chicken salad mixture for a great lunch.
Dice or thinly slice California Fresh Figs, combine with melon chunks and toss with mixed salad greens and light vinaigrette for a refreshing mid-summer salad.
Remember that “million dollar salad” your mother used to make with bananas, mandarin oranges, miniature marshmallows, and sour cream dressing? Fresh figs, added just before serving, can make it a “billion dollar salad”!
In main dishes
Combine cooked fettuccine with Alfredo sauce and stir in fresh fig quarters and toasted pine nuts for something very special.
Halves of small figs or larger ones quartered sauté beautifully to add excitement to chicken stir-fry.
Thread whole fresh figs and chunks of marinated beefsteak onto long skewers and grill. Delicious!
Broil fresh fig halves along with your next salmon steak and baste both with lemon juice and butter. The results are astonishing!
Exceptionally good stewed, California Fresh Figs fill the bill as a light dessert at dinner or lunch and get breakfast off to a great start, too.
Freeze them into ice cream or combine with a caramel sauce and use fresh figs to top it off.
You will be amazed at how good California Fresh Figs can be drizzled with chocolate sauce and served with a scoop of ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream.
Fresh figs make good crisps and cobblers, or go all out with a clafouti and top them with a cake or pudding mixture.
Do Not overlook these Other Ways to use California Fresh Figs, too.
Fresh fig salsas are great accompaniments for any meat, fish, or poultry.
Pickled figs substitute for pickled apples, any time.
Chop them up and bake them into cake, cookies, breads, and muffins, too.
Oh! Don’t forget the jams and preserves. Alone or combined with other fruits like strawberries or peaches, California Fresh Figs make tasty jams to top breakfast toast or a quick sandwich for afternoon snacking.