"You're doing a column on figs? ... Oh, do you mean Fig Newtons? " "No, although I love those old favorites. Did you know they were one..."

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“You’re doing a column on figs? … Oh, do you mean Fig Newtons?”

“No, although I love those old favorites. Did you know they were one of the first commercially baked products in the United States? No, this is about figs grown in Seattle.”

Growing figs in Seattle? What?! Yes, you can, and in the years when the weather warms up early and our summer stays on into September, the trees bear prolifically.

Years ago, when visiting local mushroom expert and enthusiast Patrice Benson at her house, I asked about a unique tree in her front yard. She said, “That’s a fig tree; they grow really well here and produce abundantly.”

That set me out to find my own, for I have always loved to grow the garden “unusuals.” The next year, I arrived early at the Seattle Tilth plant sale, and there it was … the lone fig tree! Snatching it up, and obtaining some grower advice, I headed home to plant it in a pot “to force it to bush out.”

Well, it stayed there for about three years and never did much.

Then I moved it to the parking lot “jungle” at my office. (Giant galvanized planters run around the lot; the combination of the blacktop lot, metal planters and neighboring tall walls of old brick makes for a toasty-warm microclimate. We call it the magic garden!) Two years later — the tree by then huge — the fruit started coming. And coming … and coming.

Information

For information on growing figs in Washington, see Community Horticulture Fact Sheet #46 from Washington State University’s King County extension..

If you are looking for a fig tree to plant in your Northwest garden, check out Raintree Nursery in Morton, 360-496-6400.

Last year, I had two crops; the first one yielded a 6 ¾-ounce fig that looked more like a pear. The jumbo specimens awed friends and visitors, who asked, “What do you feed them?” (Just good dirt and compost.) And from that point on, I became a true Northwest fig devotee.

Now, what to do with all these fresh figs? I’ve got lots of different and exciting, new fig-a-licious recipes — from appetizer to salad, entrée to dessert — to try.

To start, Roasted Figs with Gorgonzola and Walnuts — you won’t believe anything this easy can be so good. Sip a nice, French-style Northwest rosé — a fantastic match.

Fig, Fennel and Baby Arugula Salad with Grilled Prawns and White Balsamic Vinaigrette is a great alfresco, end-of-summer weekend meal. I use white balsamic vinegar for this salad, as it is a bit prettier with the pink shellfish and pale-green fennel than its darker cousin would be (but if you have regular balsamic, you can use that instead).

Fun fig facts


Figs were first brought to the West Coast by Spanish missionaries, who planted them in San Diego.

Fig trees can live to be more than 100 years old and grow up to 30 feet tall.

Although in the kitchen we consider it a fruit, the fig is actually a flower that is inverted into itself. There are no blossoms on the tree’s branches; the blossom is inside the fig.

Figs are picked when fully ripened. The fig is ready for harvest when it droops on the stem from its own weight. Pick with the stems attached, but always plan to use within a few days.

Source: California Fig Advisory Board

Spiced Chicken with Fresh Figs and Port is a beautiful and rustic dish. I would serve this with garlic mashed potatoes, a nice almond-studded pilaf, baked Delicata squash or end-of-the-season green beans.

Petit Polenta Fig Cakes with Red Wine Glaze and Whipped Crème Fraîche is a tasty and not-too-sweet dessert. The cakes would be great to serve with some vin santo or Northwest ice wine and maybe some of those ever-popular Spanish marcona salted almonds, too.

So, whether you scoop up a few pints at the local farmers market, buy some at the grocery or pick a bounty from your yard, get figgy with your next menu!

Chef Kathy Casey is a food, beverage and restaurant concept consultant and food writer. She owns Kathy Casey Food Studios. Her “Dishing” column appears the first Wednesday of the month in the Seattle Times Food section.