For last weekend's soiree at Casa Appetite, I insisted on doing all the food. But when my girl Karla called and told me that her fig tree was bursting with fruit, I immediately relented. How could I say no to an offering of fresh figs?
A zillion years ago, I FTD'd a fig tree to a boy I loved in Australia, but that was way before I had ever eaten a fresh fig myself. Not until I met Karla nine years ago did I get my very own hands-on experience with a ficus tree and its magnificent low-hanging fruit that has traveled the world over the ages.
I've always had a thing for figs and, like many American kids, the introduction began with the Fig Newton, a cookie I couldn't get enough of. My dried figgy experience expanded to a more sophisticated level in the late 1980s, when I worked at a gourmet shop in Philadelphia owned by four fig-loving Iranians. One of their signature cookies was a homemade fig-filled treat, soft, sweet and strange, and I prayed for broken pieces that I could take home at the end of my shift.
Fresh figs came into my life as a line cook, and I remember the aha! moment of eating one wrapped in salty prosciutto, a yin-yang flavor combination that had me wanting more. And once I got the hang of the sweet-savory thing, I started to play, adding basil to the dish and replacing the ham with a stinky blue cheese.
Every summer, I wait for Karla's cue that figs are coming, and I stop whatever I'm doing and make room. As is the case with everything on Mother Nature's watch, the ficus tree's fruit-ability is dependent on the weather. Some years have been fig-less, while others have been abundant, with two full figgy seasons.
And so, because Karla knows how much I love the fig, she gave me one of the best birthday presents ever: a gorgeous platter of halved figs sitting atop basil leaves and slices of fresh mozzarella.
While everyone oohed and aahed over the culinary artwork, Karla asked me for some olive oil, which she drizzled on top. Who needs honey when you can have olive oil on your figs?
And so the gang tucked in, enthusiastically stuffing their mouths with figgy treats, just like the ancient Greeks and Romans might have done. For them, figs were a symbol of abundance and fertility.
Since the party, Karla's been out of town, but she invited me to check in on her ficus tree and harvest any new arrivals. I stopped by yesterday afternoon, my goodie bag in tow. I could smell the ripe fruit several feet away. The tree was indeed chock-full of light green and violet morsels; however, much of the harvest had been nibbled on by birds. Nonetheless, I found a dozen unblemished figs that were ready for feasting and clipped a bunch of basil, just as the culinary muses had ordered.
Within a few hours, Mister MA and I were supping on an instant presto frozen flatbread and the glorious fig-basil combo plate. I savor each bite because I know this is it for fresh figs until next year.
And I can't wait.
Are you a fig fan? Share your tales and favorite ways to feast on them in the comments area below.
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