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Fresh figs become a grown-up treat

Recipe: Poached figs in wine and herbs

Poached figs in red wine and herbs make a quick summer dessert or side dish. (Photos: Debbie Arrington)

Summer figs, to me, are the epitome of California fruit. They love our climate. They have so much history. They’re easy to grow -- plus delicate, generous and delicious.

So much wrapped into one weird little package.

I grew up with backyard Mission fig trees. My grandmother made incredible amounts of fig jam, ready to fill cookies or top toast. The biggest treat was eating the figs fresh off the tree.

Mission figs easily fall from the tree when ripe.

How do you tell if a fig is ripe? Tap it gently three times, my grandmother instructed. If it falls off in your hand, it’s ready.

There were times when I tapped those figs like little punching bags, and they still didn’t come off. (That became a lesson in patience.)

I still love picking (and eating) fresh figs. Besides straight off the tree, figs are a versatile and flavorful fruit, at home in desserts or salads as well as alongside meat or poultry.

Poached figs are a grown-up treat. As a dessert, poached figs can be topped with ice cream, whipped cream or by themselves. Or they can be served warm with the main course, especially when flavored with thyme or other savory herbs.

Figs poach quickly, so keep an eye on them. They can go from perfect to mushy in minutes.

Match wine with the fig variety: White wine with light-colored figs; and reds with dark figs. Also, experiment with the herb-citrus combinations.

For these Mission figs, I used Malbec with orange zest and lemon verbena. (The uncooked figs went well with the wine, too.)

Poached figs in wine with herbs

Makes 2 servings


1 cup wine (your choice)

½ cup sugar

1 teaspoon citrus zest (lemon, orange, grapefruit or lime)

1 teaspoon fresh herbs (lemon verbena, thyme, rosemary, lavender, etc.)

5 to 6 figs, trimmed and halved (peeling optional)


In a medium saucepan, combine wine, sugar, zest and herbs. Bring to a boil.

Reduce heat to simmer. Cook for 5 minutes.

Add figs and cover. Poach for 5 minutes or until figs are tender, easily pierced with a sharp knife.

Remove figs with a slotted spoon. Strain poaching liquid, if desired, to make a wine sauce.

Serve warm or room temperature, with or without wine sauce.

Figs crowd the saucepan while floating in the poaching liquid.


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of Sept. 24:

This week our weather will be just right for fall gardening. What are you waiting for?

* Now is the time to plant for fall. The warm soil will get these veggies off to a fast start.

* Keep harvesting tomatoes, peppers, squash, melons and eggplant. Tomatoes may ripen faster off the vine and sitting on the kitchen counter.

* Compost annuals and vegetable crops that have finished producing.

* Cultivate and add compost to the soil to replenish its nutrients for fall and winter vegetables and flowers.

* Fertilize deciduous fruit trees.

* Plant onions, lettuce, peas, radishes, turnips, beets, carrots, bok choy, spinach and potatoes directly into the vegetable beds.

* Transplant cabbage, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower as well as lettuce seedlings.

* Sow seeds of California poppies, clarkia and African daisies.

* Transplant cool-weather annuals such as pansies, violas, fairy primroses, calendulas, stocks and snapdragons.

* Divide and replant bulbs, rhizomes and perennials. That includes bearded iris; if they haven’t bloomed in three years, it’s time to dig them up and divide their rhizomes.

* Dig up and divide daylilies as they complete their bloom cycle.

* Divide and transplant peonies that have become overcrowded. Replant with “eyes” about an inch below the soil surface.

* Late September is ideal for sowing a new lawn or re-seeding bare spots.

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