The fig deserves a little sympathy. Though beloved by Mediterraneans of all stripes, it’s known to many Americans only as the dried filling of a certain chewy, mass-produced cookie. In fact, the fig is a moist, sweet fruit with a delicate texture that grows well in mild climates such as ours — a fact appreciated by Thomas Jefferson, a fig aficionado who imported several varieties from France and grew them at his Virginia home. Nevertheless, they’re surprisingly difficult to find in grocery stores and farmers markets around the region. Donna Taylor, operations manager at Ticonderoga Farms in Chantilly, Va. — which is holding its second annual Fig Lovers Feast on Sept. 8 — spoke to us about the fruit and the event it inspired.
How did the Fig Lovers Feast come about?
Some people had asked us about our figs and the trees and history, so we did our first Fig Lovers Feast last year. It included a hayride to the orchard [to see the trees in full fruit] and a wine tasting. A local restaurant made fig pizzas, and a woman made ice cream that included sauce from figs. This year, there’ll be another hayride and a tasting of fig dishes.
Fresh figs are relatively rare in stores around here. Are they hard to grow commercially?
Well, Peter [Knop], the farm’s owner, is determined. He experimented with different areas on the farm over 25 years and was eventually able to get them to commercial quantities. Ticonderoga has over 540 fig trees and about 14 different varieties, including Champagne, Golden Delicious, Brown Turkey and Maltese. The groves went nuts this year. Because there was no massive frost, some of the figs from our first harvest were huge, and now a second batch is coming in.
Who are your customers?
We get chefs from Loudoun County, Prince William County, Pennsylvania, even [chef Patrick O’Connell] from the Inn at Little Washington. They like to [use figs in] their weekend dishes. We have our general public, too, including people who’ve become accustomed to fresh figs from Costco. But those are fast-processed; they were frozen first. People get used to them, then they come and taste a real fig — not processed, not frozen. It’s a big difference.
What does a ripe fig taste like?
When you get the perfect fig, it’s very sweet, very decadent and unusual. They’re almost like wine: You’ll have your variety that’s dry and sweet, another that’s juicy and sweet, another that’s dry with a tart-ish flavor. Brown Turkeys are darker inside, Maltese are pale pink.
What are some ways to cook or bake with figs?
I’ve seen chefs do all kinds of things: pizzas, a lot of sauces, cheese mixtures, chocolate mixtures. You might make a chocolate cake but with fig jam inside, rather than raspberry. People might mix them with orange or lemon zest, or thyme and basil. Chef Lou [Patierno, of the restaurants Girasole in The Plains, Va., and Panino in Manassas, Va.], who will be cooking for the Fig Lovers Feast, is thinking about doing a grilled salmon dish with a fig sauce, maybe with a spinach salad and blue cheese, and another cheese with figs. And we want to do a chocolate fountain with figs this year.
If You Go: Ticonderoga Farms doesn’t allow visitors to pick figs, because it’s tricky to determine whether the fruit is ripe, but you can buy them at the farm market.
Ticonderoga Farms, 26469 Ticonderoga Road, Chantilly, Va.; Sept. 8 (must reserve by Wed.), 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., $45; 703-327-4424.
Fig Flavors Closer to Home
Food, Wine & Co. (7272 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda; 301-652-8008) is serving a Mediterranean-themed salad featuring roasted figs, white peaches, blue cheese, olive oil and apricot jam ($10).
Restaurant Nora (2132 Florida Ave. NW; 202-462-5143) is offering figs in two different preparations. An appetizer features the fruit steeped in balsamic vinegar and then bruleed, accompanied by melon, prosciutto, arugula and pecorino ($16). The tasting menu ($78) includes a dessert of roasted figs, paired with vanilla ice cream and an almond cookie.
Poste’s (555 8th St. NW; 202-783-6060) small plates menu includes a dish of caramelized figs paired with a foie gras-topped brioche and pickled grapes ($17).
Roscoe’s Pizzeria (7040 Carroll Ave., Takoma Park, Md.; 301-920-0804) offers a seasonal sweet-and-savory pizza topped with figs, mozzarella and Gorgonzola cheeses, arugula, honey and olive oil ($15).