To eat fresh figs off the tree in the very early morning, when their skin is still moist with dew, is one of life's indescribably joys. Nothing can prepare you for the smooth, melting flavor of your first fresh fig - especially if you're only familiar with fig bars or dried figs.
Pliny, an ancient Roman author said, "Figs increase the strength of young people, preserve the elderly in better health and make them look younger with fewer wrinkles." We won't go quite that far, but we do know that fresh figs are one of the most healthful and delicious fruits you'll ever experience.
According to popular legend, Adam and Eve's first clothes were fashioned from fig leaves, so it's no surprise that figs are one of the oldest fruits known to mankind. Native to Western Asia and the Mediterranean, figs were likely among the first fruits cultivated by primitive man.
Figs were enjoyed as appetizers and desserts in Paris as early as the 14th century, and sweet puddings made with figs were popular in 16th century England. It was the Spaniards who originally brought figs to the New World. First planted on the island of Hispaniola in 1520, their popularity spread rapidly, and they were abundant in many parts of South America by the end of the 16th century.
Figs were brought to North America in the middle of the 18th century by the founders of the Missions along the coast of California. The fig trees thrived in the temperate climate and rich soil of the valleys and foothills, and produced exceptionally fine fruit.
Today, only a few small, family-run farms still grow premium gourmet figs for eating fresh.
Black Mission Figs - Plump and shapely, with deep purple skin. They take their name from the early California missions where they were first grown. Their sweet rosy flesh and black-purple color make them an exotic addition to fresh fruit salads, sliced and served with yogurt or ice cream.
Kadota Figs - Soft, sweet, aromatic variety, teardrop-shaped, with light green skin. You'll find their excellent flavor refreshing as a breakfast, snack or dessert.
Calimyrna Figs - A beautiful golden color, with a shape like a tiny turban. They were originally grown on the hillsides of the ancient Aegean port of Smyrna. Early Spanish missionaries discovered them equally at home in the temperate climate and rich soil of California's valleys and foothills. Before long, Calimyrnas became one of the world's most sought-after figs.
Source: Harry and David. Fresh Tree-Ripe Figs.