Figs are technically not a fruit but a mass of inverted flowers. The fig tree can live as long as 100 years, and they have been used for culinary purposes for thousands of years. Figs naturally help hold moisture in baked goods which keeps them fresher for longer. Figs are also a natural sweetener so provide a refined sugar free option.
Brown Turkey figs have large pyriform-shaped fruit. Yellow/brown soft flesh, with edible seeds which have a nutty taste like dried figs. Fairly tough skin and when ripe have a green/brown/purple hue.
Candy figs have medium-sized, bell-shaped green/yellow skinned fruit. Deep red flesh which is rich and sugary.
Adriatic figs are pale green- to pale yellow-skinned with a bright pink to brilliant red, super sweet flesh.
Black Mission figs are extremely sweet (sometimes they even ooze a bit of syrup, which you should take as a very good sign). Despite their name, they aren't really black – more of an insanely deep blue-purple that is gorgeous in its own right. Inside they are beautifully pink.
Figs famously pair with honey, blue cheese and prosciutto. They also go well with nuts (pine nuts, hazelnuts and almonds in particular), aromatic spices such as cinnamon, cardamom and black pepper as well as herbs like thyme and rosemary. Dairy products including ricotta, mascarpone, crème fraîche, burrata and salty cheese all work beautifully alongside figs.
Figs can be eaten raw or cooked. They can be barbequed, roasted, stewed, stuffed or used in baking. Roasted, honey drizzled figs sweeten a salad with leaves such as kale or rocket. Serve barbequed fig halves with some crusty bread and burrata. Stick to the classics with a blue cheese-stuffed fig, wrapped in prosciutto and baked to perfection or combine these flavours on a pizza.
A slosh of balsamic or sherry vinegar enhances their ability to be sweet and savoury.
Figs are also used in baking for treats, including cakes, frangipani tarts and clafoutis. The addition of caramel and vanilla are delicious with sweet fig dishes. Fig leaves add a tropical, coconut flavour to food. Wrap salmon in fig leaves and bake to impart a smoky, fruity flavour.
Figs are easy to grow in many parts of New Zealand, although orchards are few and far between. In most of New Zealand, any fig variety should grow and crop well. If you live in an area south of Nelson, go for early ripening varieties, as temperatures here will usually get too cool for later-ripening types to develop properly.
Early varieties start with Kerikeri Dwarf, which is a small, greenish-skinned fruit with golden flesh that generally kick off at the end of February. Brown Turkey and Brunswick are next, in season from early March, and closing out with the late cropping variety fondly known as Mrs Williams, available late March through to May.