For sweet success, handle figs with care

Fig trees produce soft fruit that can be eaten by the handful, tossed into salads or threaded onto a skewer.
Fig trees produce soft fruit that can be eaten by the handful, tossed into salads or threaded onto a skewer. New York Times file

Nutrition: One large fig contains 47 calories. One cup of chopped raw figs has about 170 calories, almost all from natural sugars. Figs are a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin B6, copper, potassium and manganese.

Selection: Fresh figs are fragile; treat with care and don’t over-handle. Look for ripe smooth fruit that is slightly soft, not hard, but not mushy. The fruit should have just a little give with the slightest pressure from your thumb. Avoid any fruit that shows bruising or wrinkles; it’s past its prime. The stem should feel firmly in place; a wiggly or loose stem indicates mushy fruit.

Storage: Figs should be refrigerated and used as soon as possible, within five to seven days. To avoid bruising, store them in a single layer on a plate or in a shallow bowl in the refrigerator. Cover with plastic wrap.

Preparation: Before use, gently wash fresh figs under cool water and pat dry. Always remove the stem before eating. Peeling is optional; chill fruit first for easy peeling.

Freeze for later: Fresh figs freeze well; they’ll be softer when defrosted but still hold their shape. Sort, wash and gently dry figs (any mushy figs should be used right away). Line a rimmed cookie sheet with waxed or parchment paper. Arrange whole figs on cookie sheet, well spaced apart so they don’t touch. Freeze until solid, then transfer frozen figs to zipped plastic bag for storage. Will keep in freezer for six months.

Or sugar pack them. Quarter fresh, washed figs lengthwise, removing stems. In a large bowl, mix cut figs with sugar; use 1 cup sugar to 5 cups figs. Pack in freezer containers, leaving 1-inch space at top. Seal and freeze; use within a year.

How to dry figs: Dried figs, a beloved delicacy for centuries, are easy to make at home. Choose ripe but not mushy fruit. Wash and dry fruit. With a sharp knife, slice figs in half lengthwise, from stem to tip, removing the stem in the process. Place figs cut side up on a wire rack. Place in an oven set at its lowest setting, preferably 125 degrees. (If set at higher temperatures, i.e. 250 degrees or above, the figs will be cooked, not dried.) Prop the oven door open if necessary or turn oven off and on to keep heat low. Leave the figs in the slow oven for 8 to 24 hours, turning them occasionally, until the figs are dried, but still pliable, and leathery. When cut, no moisture is inside. The dried figs will weigh about one-fourth of their fresh weight. Let cool, then store in airtight container or bags in cool, dry place or the freezer. Figs also may be dried in a food dehydrator, according to directions.

Debbie Arrington