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Fruits of Hopkins County: Figs

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One of the perks of having a husband in the ministry is the lovely food gifts that come to my family from members of the congregation. Some of my favorite are the delicious jams, preserves and jellies made from recipes handed down through their families. This time of year I also adore the chance to share in the bounty of my Sulphur Springs neighbors when they generously share their bumper crops of figs, plums and pears.

Figs are at their peek in East Texas from late June through early August. Although they are used in a wide variety of dishes in the Mediterranean and the Middle East, until recently figs had not been very popular in the United States. Most people only knew them as part of the filling of their childhood cookie, the Fig Newton. The emphasis on seasonal and regional ingredients in cooking has helped to elevate the fig back to the level of gourmet dining. Popular serving ideas include Green Salad with Blue Cheese, Walnuts and Figs; Figs with Mascarpone Cheese and Honey; Figs and Prosciutto; Fig and Pear Chutney, as well as figs in braided breads, muffins and cookies.

Although it is taking awhile for the fig to become popular in mainstream America, it has had a rich and varied culinary history. There are some indications that they were first cultivated over eleven thousand years ago. The Greeks believed the fig was a gift of Demeter, and made sacred to Dionysus.

The fig originated in Asia minor and is mentioned in the Bible several times. It was a staple food for civilizations from Egypt to Greece to China and served as a sweetener for foods along with sugar cane and honey. A fig spread is currently being marketed for baking and serves as a substitute for fat and sugar in recipes.

The Spaniards are believed to have brought the fig tree to the Americas where it flourished in the abundant sun and moisture. Figs grow well in all parts of Texas as long as they are protected from extreme chill, get plenty of sun and moisture. Their harvest may be limited in some parts of the state, but all produce during mid and late summer. The two most popular varieties in East Texas are the Celeste and the Texas Everbearing. They are the most cold-hardy and work well in Hopkins County. They also have sealed ends so they resist beetles and souring.

Fresh figs must be picked ripe because they do not continue to ripen after they are picked. It is then essential to eat or preserve them in some manner within a few days because they will sour with a very distinctive smell. I recently defrosted some frozen figs and threw the bags into the trash can. Even after cleaning it several times, my trash can still smells of soured figs.

Several recipes follow to cook figs while they are at their peek. I have enjoyed making the fig jam and look forward to trying the grilled figs and the spiced figs. Don’t despair when the fresh figs are gone. There are hundreds of delicious recipes that use dried figs to supplement fig cravings throughout the year. Anyone have a great Fig Newton recipe?

Grilled Figs with Cinnamon Whipped Cream
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons brandy
2 teaspoons honey
3 tablespoons butter
12 large ripe figs
1 tablespoon brown sugar
In a mixing bowl, stir together whipping cream, cinnamon, 1 tablespoon brandy and honey. Mix well to incorporate the honey. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to allow flavors to develop. Prepare a medium hot fire on the grill and soak skewers in water.
Melt butter and stir in the remaining tablespoon of brandy. Slice the figs in half lengthwise and thread side by side on skewers so cut sides are exposed. Sprinkle tops with brown sugar. When grill is ready, brush the rack lightly with oil. Grill the figs with the cut side up. Cook until surface is bubbly and golden. Remove from grill and slide off the skewers.
Whip the cream mixture until soft peaks form. Serve figs with a dollop of whip cream on the side.

Spiced Figs
A friend recommended this as a great accompaniment to cold meats (great for leftovers).
2 cups white wine vinegar
1 inch piece fresh ginger
3 tablespoons allspice
2 cups sugar
Whole cloves (one per fig)
2 1/2 pounds fresh figs
Juice of one lemon
Combine ingredients in a crock and chill in refrigerator for several days before serving.

Fig Jam
My favorite way to serve fig jam or preserves is mixed with cream cheese, spread on crostini and topped with carmalized red onion.
6 quarts boiling water
6 quarts fresh figs
1 quart water
8 slices lemon
Pour boiling water over figs; let stand 15 minutes. Drain and thoroughly rinse in cold water. Pat dry; remove stems. Crush and measure figs, place in a large Dutch oven. Add 1/2 cup sugar for each cup of crushed figs. Add 1 quart water. Bring to a rapid boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, 3 hours or until thickened, stirring occasionally.
For the past 20 years, Cindy Welch has been involved with all aspects of cooking, including formal culinary training, experience as food service director for First Baptist Church of Euless, a personal chef and owner of Cindy’s Casa Cuisine. Cindy’s favorite hobby is “providing delicious food for the people of Sulphur Springs.” Her columns cover all aspects of the cooking experience.



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