Figs and Pleasure: A Primer

There was a Frenchman a few years ago who was working behind the cheese counter at Whole Foods. As I lingered, taking in the selection, he suggested I pair a certain cheese with a beautiful jar of fig jam. This appealed to me because I liked his French accent, because, in explaining the qualities of the cheese in a few words, I knew he actually knew about this…and because I wanted to like it.

I wanted to try the combination together, but I particularly wanted to like the fig jam.

figs1 9.7.13I think, deep inside, I’ve always known I was going to cultivate a taste for figs, but that it was going to be as a grown-up.

When I was a kid, my dad had a fig tree. He kept it in a big pot outside on our patio in the summer, and brought it into the basement for the winter. Dad, and his brothers, loved figs. I never asked, but realize now they probably had fig trees when they were growing up in Italy. They had grapes, I think olive trees, so they likely had fig trees, too.

He would pick one from the tree and eat it whole, with such pleasure. If he ate it in two or three bites instead, I’d see the reddish-purple fleshiness of the inside of it, which looked alien to me, and unappealing. I don’t remember ever trying one when I was younger.

But I was intrigued because of Dad’s love of them.

The jar of fig jam I bought that day in Whole Foods was my stepping stone. I knew it even as I bought it. And it was delicious with cheese, just like my Frenchman had promised.

After that, I bought fig jam from time to time. And one year, when figs appeared at a small produce market, I bought them. I ate them, to eat them. Another step. They were fine.

Then last September, just after I’d posted my first entry to this blog, I saw figs at Trader Joe’s, and knew they were going to be my first food to write about.

And they almost were.

I was ready to embrace figs. They fit perfectly with my theme of wanting to know foods better by using them several times in a row, and trying them in different ways. I bought them a few times over the next couple weeks—dark purple ones and green ones—and enjoyed using them in many ways. I took pictures. I began to write a post. Whether it was my work schedule at the time, or simply the act of incorporating a new habit, a fig triad did not make it to press at that time!

I cropped one of my fig photos to grace the banner at the top of my home page, while the draft I began on figs a year ago has waited patiently to be picked up and continued.

When I ate a fig from that first container I brought home from Trader Joe’s, it was more than fine. I realized I had truly grown into liking them. Very much. There is something lush about a fig, the slight give of the skin as you bite into one, the softness and sweetness inside, and a little bit of graininess. You could eat them whole and plain, and it would be enough.figs3 9.7.13

But they are wonderfully versatile, too.

One of the first ways I prepared them was to cut them in quarters, but not quite to the bottom, so that they were held together at the base. I dropped a little mascarpone into the middle of each. Drizzled honey over them. Sprinkled toasted pine nuts over top.

Eaten with pleasure.

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