Saturday, August 28, 2010

Forgotten Figs

My friend who has a small CSA was at the local Farmer's Market today with her tree ripened, absolutely gorgeous and sugary sweet figs. The type of fig that when you see it on the tree you cannot resist the urge to devour it immediately. To my surprise she did not sell out of her figs immediately even though she brings just a limited amount to the market. In fact, one young lady approached her booth, pointed to the figs and said "what are those?" Like a lot of Americans this young lady had never seen nor eaten a fig. What is wrong with this picture?

Figs are prolific, tasty, and versatile. Different varieties grow well in all our North American climates and they can often produce two crops a year. Their fruit is one of the most sweet - to me only dates are sweeter. And you can use figs in many ways - eaten as fresh fruit, coupled with cheese, dried, as a jam, as a chutney, stewed with meat....the list goes on and on. It pairs well with meats, cheese, and wine. The one thing figs don't seem to do well, however, is travel long distances in bulk containers. And herein lies the reason I think figs are almost unknown to American consumers. They don't work well within the commercial food system.

Its a shame that our exposure to food delights and options are limited by what can travel 1,500 miles from farm to fork. How many regional delights have we missed out on? I just "discovered" Kohlrabi. You don't see it in stores and no one talks about it. My small CSA friend grows it and gave me some along with ideas on how to cook it. Wow! It was amazing. I now eat it whenever I can get my hands on one of those turnip shaped bulbs. It makes a great "steak" for my vegetarian friends when they visit and we BBQ. And it works very well in Chinese recipes as it really absorbs the sauce flavors and provides structure and crunch. How is it that I have lived *ahem* years on this planet and have only just "discovered" such a great food? A centralized and commoditized food system that can only manage a limited number of "long shelf life products" to bring to market.

We have to fight back. Long live the fig!

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