When I lived in Calabria as a child I was surrounded by fig trees all around our farm, and I never could decide which type to pick from first. The best fig that is grown in Calabria is the “dottato” variety, known in this country as the “kadota” fig. These have a green skin with a golden interior. They are excellent fresh as well as great for drying, which is what my grandparents used to do with them.
When I moved to California as a teenager, my dad planted some cuttings from our friends’ trees. Then, when my husband and I built our house in the Oakland hills, the first thing we planted were two fig trees. One was a black mission and the other was one that my dad grafted into two varieties, the “kadota” and the “adriatic”.
Fig trees produce two crops a year. Here in Northern California the first crop lasts from late June to July and the second crop from late August through the beginning of October. The first crop is borne on the twigs grown the previous year and the second crop grows on the new wood. Here are photos of my figs:
Kadota Figs. Note the drop of honey on the blossom end of the center fig. Perfection!
Black Mission Fig:
I have been picking my first crop of the Adriatic variety for the past two weeks. The black mission figs are just starting to ripen this week. My favorite way to eat them is right off the tree, fully ripe.
Most figs sold at the store are underripe, so try to go to a farmers’ market to buy them. A ripe fig is soft to the touch; you should see some cracks in the skin. If you see that little tear of syrup falling from the blossom end you have a perfectly sweet fig.
Calabrians don’t really cook with figs unless they are making jam or using them in a dessert. As for savory dishes, I will wrap some prosciutto around a cut fig, or slice them in a salad of arugula with some prosciutto.
The majority of the figs grown in Calabria are dried in the sun and are nowadays packaged in beautiful confectioneries. My grandmother would braid the dried figs in various shapes: coroncine (wreaths) around stems of fragrant myrtle; spinapisci (fish spines) in which dried figs are threaded around a sharpened reed in the shape of a fish spine, one fig to the left and one to the right; and crocette (crosses), in which two figs are split and stuffed with pieces of walnut or an almond and crossed in the form an “x”. These are then all baked.
There are two firms in Calabria around Belmonte Calabro and Amantea that do a beautiful job packaging dried figs: Colavolpe and Fratelli Marano. They shape them in the traditional forms, but also stuff them with almonds and a piece of candied orange peel, dipping them in dark chocolate, my favorite way to eat them dried.
If you can’t find a tree-ripened fig in your area you can still enjoy the dried figs of Calabria that are now available in this country. Here is a website where you can buy Calabrian fig confectioneries: http://www.italianharvest.com/subcategory.php?subcatID=13