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Fresh figs become a grown-up treat

Recipe: Poached figs in wine and herbs

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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.

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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

Ingredients:

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)

Instructions:

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.

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Figs crowd the saucepan while floating in the poaching liquid.

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Garden Checklist for week of May 19

Temperatures will be a bit higher than normal in the afternoons this week. Take care of chores early in the day – then enjoy the afternoon. It’s time to smell the roses.

* Plant, plant, plant! It’s prime planting season in the Sacramento area. If you haven’t already, it’s time to set out those tomato transplants along with peppers and eggplants. Pinch off any flowers on new transplants to make them concentrate on establishing roots instead of setting premature fruit.

* Direct-seed melons, cucumbers, summer squash, corn, radishes, pumpkins and annual herbs such as basil.

* Harvest cabbage, lettuce, peas and green onions.

* In the flower garden, direct-seed sunflowers, cosmos, salvia, zinnias, marigolds, celosia and asters.

* Plant dahlia tubers. Other perennials to set out include verbena, coreopsis, coneflower and astilbe.

* Transplant petunias, marigolds and perennial flowers such as astilbe, columbine, coneflowers, coreopsis, dahlias, rudbeckia and verbena.

* Keep an eye out for slugs, snails, earwigs and aphids that want to dine on tender new growth.

* Feed summer bloomers with a balanced fertilizer.

* For continued bloom, cut off spent flowers on roses as well as other flowering plants.

* Don’t forget to water. Seedlings need moisture. Deep watering will help build strong roots and healthy plants.

* Add mulch to the garden to help keep that precious water from evaporating. Mulch also cuts down on weeds. But don’t let it mound around the stems or trunks of trees or shrubs. Leave about a 6-inch to 1-foot circle to avoid crown rot or other problems.

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