Every day here at The Chopping Block, we create a tasting sample that highlights one of the gourmet ingredients we sell (and use in our own kitchens). We are known for our Truffle Salt popcorn but once in awhile we like to mix it up and surprise our guests with something new and unexpected.
A few weeks ago, one of our managers whipped up a particularly delicious new tasting - goat cheese and fig crostinis, finished with a drizzle of our Cream of Balsamic Vinegar. Every guest who tried one couldn't believe how good they were, and many commented especially on how great the figs were with the balsamic. Figs are an ingredient we all recognize but many of us home cooks don't seem to reach for them the way we do more familiar fruits. This made me curious to learn more about the amazing fig!
Figs are a food with a very ancient origin (not unlike popcorn). They originated in the ancient Middle East but soon spread through Europe and Asia. Fossilized figs have even been found at Neolithic sites, leading some to believe they may actually have been the first purposely cultivated food - beating out wheat and rice by over 1000 years! Figs are featured prominently in writings from Ancient Greece and Rome, and are frequently mentioned in the Old Testament as well. Fig trees were introduced to the Americas in 1560 and now flourish here, being especially well suited to the temperate climates in the Southern United States and Latin and South America.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the fig is not its history, but rather its biology. Figs are not technically fruits - they are called syconiums, which are a hollow plant structure that is filled with thousands of tiny flowers that then develop into thousands of tiny individual fruits all bound up together in one little package. The thousands of tiny fruits inside are what give the fig its unique texture.
Figs bring an unusual and unexpected note of sweetness to your table. Try swapping them into a recipe that uses berries or apples, like a fresh salad or appetizer. Figs are in season until mid-Autumn so enjoy them while you can! Or capture their deliciousness for use throughout the winter by preserving them, which you can learn about in our Preserving the Season cooking class, which features a recipe for Fig and Red Onion Jam!