5.8.08

Got Figs?

Figs are definitely on the list of my five top favorite food and they are certainly one of my favorite fruits. My first taste of a fresh fig occurred while living in northern California when I was house-sitting for my (then) boss - he and his wife had a huge Black Mission fig tree in their backyard and told me to "help myself" to as many as I would like. I did. I had never seen nor tasted fresh figs before then. In fact, the only figs I'd had any contact with previous to that little fig tree and its hanging jewels were (gasp!) Nabisco's Fig Newtons.

But after eating that first fig, I couldn't get enough of them. I cleaned the tree out in a few days flat.

Yep, every last fig.

And that was only the beginning of my affair with figs. They had soft, succulent flesh that went with everything from honey to goat cheese to blue cheese to port. Sweet or savory, the figs fit the bill. They were fabulous whether roasted, baked or scraped off the inside of their tender skins with my teeth. They were like sex: even a bad fig was a good fig. And there were no bad figs that time of year. Later, I remember wandering aimlessly, hopefully, into a tiny, out of the way Mediterranean market in October that year to ask if they ever had fresh figs. The proprietor of the tiny store laughed. He told me to come back next August.

Next August? But that was a whole year away!

And so, there was nothing I could do but wait. The next year, I loaded up again. When I moved to Oregon, I bought my own tree. It was small, and it didn't produce many figs, but each one was like a prized possession. Every August and September, I bought them in quantity at the market, from Freeman. I even went so far as to preserve them in rum.

Well, it really is true: the best things come to those who wait. Figs are one of the few produce items that you simply cannot get in the grocery stores the whole year. And often, many grocery stores don't even carry them. Figs are sweet, fragile and ephemeral. Like a coy lover, they are here one moment and gone the next - leaving your tastebuds longing for more. No wonder they're considered aphrodisiacs. Consider yourself lucky if you have them in your grocery store (and if they're ripe). Scour the farmer's market for them or scout out the neighbor's tree...bring the neighbors cookies or pies if you have to, for trade. Or, seek out a tree near the sidewalk that you can snatch a few from in desperation.

Figs are also somewhat finicky - they don't grow well everywhere. They require wasps to pollinate them. They don't grow in Hawaii.

Or so I thought.

That was until I received a tip from a couple of foodies in LB's office that there had been figs at the Farmer's market in town (Honolulu). I didn't know who the vendor was, but I told LB we were going. And we went. We arrived at 9 AM (it begins at 7:30) and finally found the vendor in question: Blue Lotus (Organic) Farm. We asked if they had any figs.

They laughed at us. They asked us, "What time is it?"

We said, "Almost 10," looking down at our watches. They said, "Come back next week, early. We've been sold out for hours."

And so, we did. We arrived the following week at 7:35 AM and went straight to the booth. No figs. He was already sold out. We got the last 3, very bruised specimens for half price. But oh, they were tasty - heady, even. The first bite transported me back to all the other Augusts when figs had touched my lips for the first time each year...I instantly wanted more, needed more. I put the charm on and worked out a deal with the farmer and he offered to set some aside The next weekend, I called and he was going be out of town...he promised the following week he would be there, figs in hand.

So it took me three weeks to get my figs, but it was worth every moment.

The figs are here, friends. And they're organic!

Go see Greg Yee, at Blue Lotus Farms. Get them while they are still here because before you know it, they'll be gone. Go early and bring something to place these jewels in - a safe, gentle resting place - while you do the rest of your shopping. It'll be worth it when you get them home, perfect and unblemished.

Most of the figs Greg has are Calimyrna figs. They are more subtle and delicate than Black Mission figs; and not quite as sweet or rich as their darker cousins. With the two pounds of figs I bought, I ate many of them simple, fresh and unadulterated. Then I topped these mini mascarpone tarts with them - a modified version of this tart, but scented with Grand Marnier and honey and with a toasted hazelnut and graham cracker crust. I also made a fresh fig, date and ginger (mascarpone) ice cream. Delicious. Seductive. Heavenly.

Resources:
Greg Yee
Blue Lotus Farms
KCC Farmer's Market (Row E - over by the boiled peanuts)

Consequently, Greg also sells organic chicken and duck eggs (prices dependent on size) and even better - whole, free-range local chickens. The chickens are about 6 lbs each and come out at approximately $20 per bird. He didn't have any chicken the day I was there last, but he says he usually does. On an island where local eggs are rapidly disappearing and local chicken is even more rare, farmers like Greg are a blessing and need your support. But trust me, my friends, nothing - and I mean nothing - compares to the figs.

***Update, Jan 9, 2015***

Courtesy of a commenter: Greg Yee passed away January 8.  He was a beautiful person who loved life and always had a smile to share with others. It brought him great joy to see people enjoy his fruits, vegetables and eggs. He will truly be missed.

Rest in Peace, Greg.  You were a blessing to all at the Market and we did enjoy your products!  Thank you for the light you brought and the beautiful things you shared with us. You will be missed.

17 comments from you:

cookiecrumb said...

You're going to have to get a fig tree. You can do it!! I think/hope.
Gord, what a beautiful photo of that tart.

Julie said...

Beautiful photo of the tart, and beautiful opening photo of the figs. OK, that tart is a complete work of art.

I never see figs at the farmers' market in Baltimore but I just learned last week that one of my co-workers has a fig tree in her backyard. She said she'd bring me some. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Christie @ fig & cherry said...

Fantastic description - I never wanted it to end! I too LOVE figs (you may have guessed?).

They are divine split open slightly and stuffed with a spoonful of mascarpone (or ricotta) and a small square of dark chocolate. Grill till the chocolate melts slightly - voila! Dessert! x

poppy fields said...

Hello from another fig lover. I am over from Ilva's blog...I used to live on the Big Island, where I learned to love fresh food of all sorts, but now live closer to Ilva.
Nice to "meet" you :)

Ann said...

Wonderful photos! I adore figs. Just love them unto death!

Ilva said...

Italy is your country then! We are surrounded by figs here, we even planted a tree that we dug up again and gave away...
How did your stomach feel after eating all those figs byw?

Zoomie said...

I was surprised when you said figs don't grow in Hawaii as I had a fig tree in my yard that rained figs down every day in season, so many that we couldn't eat them all, give them all away, beg people to take them - and ended up fighting the wasps to scoop them up and throw them away! I'm glad you found your figs at last! And Cookiecrumb is right - plant a tree!

Debinhawaii said...

The tarts are beautiful and look delicious. I never even knew anyone sold figs at the market until you mentioned it!

Michelle said...

Cookie, you know, I just might do that! If I can find one around here...I'm sure they've got to have them somewhere...

Julie, Thank you! I hope your co-worker comes through for you, you lucky lady!

Christie, You are a woman after my own heart. I know what I'll be doing with my next batch now - that sounds fabulous!

Poppy, nice to meet you too! Sounds like you've lived in some very nice places! I love the Big Island, and I dream of Italy (or Europe? I'll have to go check out your blog!) Thanks for stopping by mine!

Ann, me too!!

Ilva, I will make it there one day! I'm determined. Wish I could have taken that tree off your hands. I have to say that I never felt sick from figs - not like I have after eating bushes worth of raspberries ;)

Zoomie, yeah, I never really thought about figs being here. Now I've heard so many people have trees I"m going to have to get my own or make new friends!!

Deb, thanks! I didn't know either until I got the tip - probably because they were always long gone before we got our lazy butts all the way to town!

vlb5757 said...

I love dried Black Mission Figs. I can't remember who introduced them to me, but it's been love every since. I have never eaten fresh ones, but I think I would love them too. Nice tart!

glutenfreeforgood said...

Michelle,
Your photos are amazing! Hawaii is bringing out your creative juices, that's for sure! You need to do a cookbook one of these days.
Melissa

Karen said...

Michelle, you inspired me to buy a box of figs last night. Delicious.

Michelle said...

Vickie, I love dried figs too! But they're like a whole different food than fresh figs! I bet you would love them too ;)

Melissa, Aw, shucks. Thanks for the compliments - I'm blushing.

Karen, I'm so glad!!

Annie said...

I love figs too! I also didn't get to try figs till I got to California. And even though we rent, I planted a fig tree in our yard 4 years ago and now we get figs (Black Mission ones!). They're not quite ripe yet but I will be thinking of you as we harvest them sometime next month. In the meantime, a friend's tree is already all ripe and she just gave me a HUGE amount. I'll be chomping on them a lot. Come visit and we'll share our bounty.

Michelle said...

Annie, you're so lucky! Maybe I'll have to get my own fig tree again one of these days (Black mission or Brown Turkey are my faves). Do post something when you harvest them - then I can live vicariously through you... And I'll start planning that trip...

Kim Dalton said...

I wanted to let you all know that Greg Yee passed away January 8. He was a beautiful person who loved life and always had a smile to share with others. It brought him great joy to see people enjoy his fruits, vegetables and eggs. He will truly be missed.

Michelle said...

Thank you, Kim, for sharing this... I'm sorry for your loss.