Sunday, February 06, 2005

Figgie Goodness

I've always loved figs. I grew up with a fig tree that was an imposing presence in front of our house and a favorite for climbing. Back then I only ate figs out of hand. As I've gotten older I have grown to appreciate the many other ways there are to eat figs. Adding them to salads, grilling them, serving them with ricotta, drizzling them with balsamic vinegar, making fig tapenade, baking with them--you name it. So you can imagine how happy I was to see and taste so many fantastic fig products at the Fancy Food Show. This year it seemed there were more products than ever using figs as an ingredient. Figs were combined with nuts, honey and other fruits in jams, pastes, sauces and conserves and a whole host of other products. No question about it, figs are really gaining in popularity.

Two of my favorite fig discoveries at the show were Maggie Beer's Burnt Fig Jam and the girl and the fig's Apricot Fig Chutney. Both products were developed by wonderful restauranteurs and cookbook authors.

Maggie Beer operated the Pheasant Farm restaurant for 15 years becoming a well-known culinary figure in her native Australia. Since then she has written several cookbooks and created a line of gourmet food products that were launched in the US last year at the Fancy Food Show including fruit pastes to be served with cheese and verjuice, classically used in sauces. Her Burnt Fig Jam is a revelation. A sophisticated dark and rich fig jam it doesn't actually seem burned so much as caramelized. Maggie claims her inspiration was her mother who routinely did burn the jam when making it! Perhaps this is why grilled figs are so delicious?

Sondra Bernstein is a well-respected restauranteur who has run the girl and the fig restaurant in both Glen Ellen and now in Sonoma. Last year she wrote a cookbook based on the restaurant's recipes and this year has launched a line of wonderful fig products including my personal favorite--Apricot Fig Chutney. Perhaps a listing of some of the ingredients will give you a sense of why I am so crazy about this chutney. It contains tartly tangy apricots, figs, cherries, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and clove. What's not to like? In her line of Fig Food you will also find jam, conserve, vinegar and syrup.

Keep your eyes open for more terrific fig products. There's no telling where they might turn up next...