So many luscious words have been written in homage to the fresh fig, with its rich history and symbolic ties to abundance and fertility...

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So many luscious words have been written in homage to the fresh fig, with its rich history and symbolic ties to abundance and fertility.

But I much prefer figs dried and shriveled, with their sweet flavor concentrated and their texture slightly chewy.

In local markets, we most often see Mission or Franciscana figs. The colors of the fresh fruit range from deep purple-black outside to red inside, but turn almost jet black throughout when dried. This variety has a coarse texture and sweet, intense flavor.

Less familiar are Calimyrna figs. The fresh fruits are plump with a mild nutty flavor and golden color both inside and out. The dried variety retains many of those qualities, remaining round and full, perfect for filling with sweet or savory concoctions. At Fran’s Chocolates, for instance, chocolatier Fran Bigelow stuffs these figs with rich chocolate ganache, then dips the bottoms into a pool of semisweet chocolate that hardens to a crackling shell.

Unopened dried figs should be stored in a cool, dry spot in a tightly closed container. Often the natural fruit sugar in dried figs will crystallize on the surface of the fruit if stored for several months, but they’re still perfectly safe to eat. Once the package is opened, the fruit should be transferred to a tightly closed container and refrigerated up to 6 months.

Before eating or cooking with dried figs, cut off the tough little stems at the top. Because of their intense flavor, the fruit complements and enhances other strong flavors. A simple compote of poached fruit is just one example of how dried figs meld with other ingredients.

Bring ¾ cup each water and red wine, and ¼ cup sugar to a boil in a saucepan. Add 4 ounces dried figs, 3 ounces dried apricots and 1 ounce dried cherries, along with 2 cinnamon sticks, 2 star anise and 4 cloves. Bring back to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer 10 to 15 minutes, just until the fruit has softened. Cool in the syrup, then serve warm or cold with cream or vanilla ice cream.

Experiment with substituting figs in recipes calling for dried apricots. Chutneys or sweet breads are a good place to begin. On a cheese plate, pair figs with hearty blues and goat cheeses, bries and buttery triple-crèmes such as Saint Andre.

Dried figs really shine in braised pork and chicken dishes. Not only does their sweet, earthy flavor enhance those ingredients, the figs also melt and thicken the juices of the braise.

According to the USDA, a serving size of three dried figs has 130 calories, and they are a wonderful source of dietary fiber (6g), as well as low in fat (0.5g) and sodium (5mg).

CeCe Sullivan: csullivan@seattletimes.com