Baked Fig Bites

Dear eaters, I went on an unknown culinary adventure recently. I am going to share with you what I did, what I ate, and my thoughts on the whole thing, but please do let me know your experiences with figs if you have any as I’m a wee bit uncertain about the whole thing. It all started when I realized that my significant other has a fig tree outside his apartment. Well, color me happy! Hello, free produce! The only tricky part is that I am pretty much totally unfamiliar with fresh figs. But when you are handed free produce, you do not shy away simply because you don’t know. Well, at least I don’t think you should – not when you have the World Wide Web at your disposal. So I researched via Google and my friends on Facebook, and I waited for the figs to get ripe. By mid-last week, there were a whole bunch of ripe ones, and I could tell the birds were starting to eat the figs, so Lance and I harvested an overflowing quart bag for me to bring home for experimentation purposes. Here are those experiments for your reading and eating perusal and enjoyment.

Plate o' Deliciousness

Baked Fig Bites

Ingredients – all to taste, depending on how much of each kind of bite you want to eat
Fresh figs
Semi soft cheese – I used plain goat cheese
Bacon
Walnuts
Honey
Prosciutto
Bread – I used ciabatta

Steps
1. Wash the figs, scrubbing as necessary to remove any outdoor detritus from the outside of the fruit. Be gentle as the skin is fragile. I used my handy-dandy produce brush.
2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a jelly roll pan with foil. I recommend placing a cookie cooling rack or small wire rack on the pan if you use bacon on your bites so the bacon grease drips away from your bites.
3. If you are using walnuts, chop them up so they are ready to go when you want them. I chopped up about 4 or 5 halves and had leftovers.
4. If using bacon, slice each long piece in half.
5. Start slicing figs in half. Most of mine I sliced from top to bottom, vertically rather than horizontally, although I did experiment with a few horizontal cuts. I think I prefer the vertical cut (although the horizontal cut seems prettier) because it opens up sort of a wee bit of a pocket in the fruit that is ideal for widening to stuff. I used a cheese spreader (small, dull, round implement) to widen a divot in the fruit.

Divot for Stuffing!

Then I began making decisions. Some I put walnuts in first and then smushed goat cheese on top. Others just got goat cheese smushed in there without any walnuts. It was a bit random. Some got walnuts (no more than ½ teaspoon), and goat cheese,  were wrapped in bacon, and then were secured with a toothpick. Two halves went on the baking sheet plain, just to see.

6. Bake the non-bacon bites for about 12 minutes. They will be quite soft and a little bubbly/juicy at this point. The bacon still wasn’t done, so I gave it 5 more minutes.
7. Drizzle some with honey, as you see fit. Wrap others in pieces of prosciutto as you see fit.
8. Smear some pieces on bread.
9. Eat them all, and be satisfied.

Ready for the oven!

 

As I was preparing my bites, I tasted the raw fruit in minute quantities to have an idea of the fresh fruit flavor. Only once did I sort of squint my eyes and make a face, thinking, “hmmm that wasn’t quite good eats.” But I prepped it anyway. Baked, I thought they all tasted good, although I did get a little burned out by the end of my plate of fig bites. It was a lot of bites, y’all. I liked having the nuts in them as it provided a bit of texture in an otherwise mostly creamy/soft bite. I do like texture in my food. The bacon/prosciutto bites were good also, but I think I liked the prosciutto over the bacon, just by a hair. I’d do either of them again. The salty notes added an edge against the creaminess also. I’ve heard you can use blue cheese instead of goat, and as I do love blue cheese, I will be giving that a try next. I promise to report back. It was a little hard to scrape the fruit out of the skin to spread on the bread, so frequently I just cut the bites into smaller pieces to put on the bread, and it was delicious. I definitely was wanting some fig preserve-type product, so that’s on my mind to figure out as well. I would give all my bites two thumbs up, for sure.

Up close and personal!

 

When I was doing my research online to figure out how to know when the figs were ripe, I learned quite a bit. First of all, there are many different kinds of figs. They are not all dark brown/black/purple, like I thought, nor do they turn that color when they ripen. These figs are green figs, and they turn sort of a yellow/weird light brown/unfortunate pale yucky green color. Appetizing, I know. It’s a tricky color to describe. What would you call those colors below?

Bottom one is ripe.

Left one is ripe.

Anyway. Bright/dark green figs are a no-go. Rock hard figs are a no-go. As the figs ripen, they turn color and get heavier. This will cause them to go from perpendicular to the tree branch to more parallel. As it drops, the skin on the neck may crack a bit. It will also start to drip nectar from the bottom of the fig. They are also soft and kind of squishy. A girlfriend of mine also watches the “bellybutton” at the bottom of the fig.

Bellybuttons on figs

She says when it starts to turn pink, that’s a clue for her to pick them. There was conflicting information out there on whether or not they continue to ripen once picked, so I’m not sure what to tell you about that. My girlfriend who has been figging for years says she picks hers a bit early to keep the birds from getting them and leaves them on the counter to ripen. That’s how she rolls. I found this website to have helpful progression pictures of figs as they ripen. You should check it out!

See how the neck is starting to crack on the right?

 

Let’s talk prosciutto, a quick moment. It is, to be truthful, kind of a pricey ingredient. However, in my opinion, a few slices go quite a long way. For instance, last week I bought six slices at Central Market, and I got three meals/snacks out of those slices, and I believe the six slices cost me $4.25 or so. Plus I got a free “tasting” slice while I was standing at the counter. Bonus! If you are lucky enough to live near a Whole Foods or Central Market, the folks working the counter are often nice and knowledgeable enough to talk to you about what you are eating/serving it with so as to help you make the best choice out of your options. They also usually let you taste them so you can make sure to get one you like. I would use this as a measure of a quality meat counter, wherever you are shopping. If they won’t let you taste it before you pay $22.50/lb, then go elsewhere. Your money is too precious to waste on an ingredient you might not like. And remember, you really don’t need a whole pound. While it depends on the number of people you are feeding, in my opinion, 6 – 12 slices will probably be sufficient. But talk to the meat counter staff person, and they should help you out. It will be cut quite thin, and because of how the meat falls apart, one slice can be used to wrap at least 2 fig bites, most likely. If you are like me, you may want to be prudent and get one more slice than you really think you need for the bites as you may find yourself snacking on the prosciutto while you are preparing the rest of the bites. I’m just saying…it’s a possibility. Stay tuned for more prosciutto education as we continue our fig adventures!

The tree of abundant figs!

 

Since the first picking and bite making, I’ve got another quart bag, and still half of the original bag in my fridge. I’m going to have to figure out a preserves recipe or a pie or something, stat! I also should probably try some of them just raw. I might give the blue cheese and prosciutto bites a go. That sounds tasty to me. Perhaps some will find their way into my lunch. Either way, there is a lot of fig-figuring out going on around here. I refuse to let them all go to the birds. I’m a quick learner, so back off, birdies! I’ll keep sharing my adventures. It was recently suggested to me by a Food Network star (via Twitter – how fun!) to try them roasted with a balsamic-garam masala drizzle. So what that I don’t know how to make that? I’ll figure it out and keep you posted! In the meantime, how do you like to eat figs? What are your tips for how to know how they are ripe? I’d love to hear! Happy eating!

 
I’m still working on figuring out nutritional information for my figs. I will report back when I find something out!

Alabama Dewberry Cobbler

Over Easter weekend, I went to visit my good friends Mark and Stephanie who live in AL. It’s become a regular tradition for us over the last few years. This year was different because Easter was later in the month of April which meant it was <cue drum roll> dewberry season. The last two times I’ve visited, it has been just at the beginning of the season when the dewberry flowers are appearing. Mark always shows me the white flowers along the roadside and says, “There and there and there will be so many dewbs. It’s a shame you won’t be there to help pick them.” Well, this year, I was there to pick them. Honestly, I wasn’t sure there were berries to pick because I couldn’t tell where the berries were. The trick seems to be to watch where the white flowers appear, make note, and then a few weeks later go to the same spots to pick the berries. We went on Easter Sunday to pick the berries, and it was my first-ever berry-picking experience. I was quite enamored with the whole thing. We picked for 30 minutes and got about 3 quarts of berries between the 2 of us.  What do you do with dewberries, you might ask? Well, Mark made a dewberry cobbler which is below for your making as well. It’s ridiculously easy and ripe for substitutions, so get to the makin’, my friends!


Alabama Dewberry Cobbler

Ingredients (Mark does not measure – it’s quite loose)
Enough berries to cover the bottom of a pie pan – about 1 quart
Enough cake mix to cover the berries. I recommend white, vanilla, butter, or almond, if you can find it.
Slices of butter – about ¼ cup or ½ a stick

Steps
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Rinse your berries. This is crucial as they’ve come straight from the outdoors. Let drain for a few minutes. Pick over to make sure you don’t have any detritus from the outdoors. This does not make good eats.
3. Pour berries into pan. You want to cover the bottom. They don’t need to be in a single layer, but I wouldn’t go for more than a double layer.

4. Using your preferred flavor of cake mix, shake enough dry mix on top of the berries. It doesn’t need to be neat or absolutely all the way over to the edges. You do want to cover most of the berries, though.

        

5. Cut pats of butter, and place randomly across the cake mix. They should be somewhere between so thin they break apart immediately and crazy thick. Mark used 12 pats.

6. Cover with foil, and cook for 45 minutes. Check and see if the topping is browned and the berries look broken down and juicy. If not, leave in a few more minutes.
7. Let cool a few minutes when you take it out. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream or just by itself.


Honestly, when Mark started the process, I was confused because I thought he needed to make a crust and all that jazz. I was mistaking cobbler for pie, it seems. A cobbler does not need a bottom crust and does not regularly have a lattice top or the fully covered top with cut-outs that I was envisioning. This is much simpler! I may be cobbler’s new biggest fan! I made this when I got home with my dewberries and just made a personal-sized cobbler. It was super easy. I used less than 1/2 cup cake mix and about a tablespoon or so of butter and ate it with ice cream, right out of the dish. When you are eating dessert for one, why not?? I’m contemplating making it with strawberries or peaches next.


You may be asking, “What the heck is a dewberry??” I’d never heard of them before my friends moved to Alabama either. They are a relative of the blackberry, only smaller. They grow on ground-crawling vines with wee thorns. You have to be very, very careful when picking them so as not to get pricked. I was not always successful, honestly. Before we left the house, Mark said he always goes berry picking in shorts and sandals. This woman went in long pants and closed-toed shoes. I’m pretty thankful that I did. It made me brave enough to get closer to clusters of berries that were just calling my name. In fact, I’ve still got some splashes of smushed berries on the side of one of my shoes. :) The berries do fall apart pretty easily so your fingers get stained post-haste. I think they are quite tasty, so I’m glad I finally got to try them. Mark is quite the industrious berry picker and makes dewberry cobblers, jams, wine, and who knows what all else? He’s a wizard with that kind of thing. It does seem to me that if you can find any sort of produce free on the side of the road in your neck of the woods, you should DEFINITELY take advantage of it. I came home to pints of blackberries in the grocery store for nearly $4. Seriously? I just picked a quart of them for free in 30 minutes. That’s a serious impact on one’s grocery bill. Maybe it’s not berries in your area. Maybe it’s pecans. Maybe it’s peaches. Maybe it’s apples. I honestly don’t know what it is in my own area, but I want to find out.

Please enjoy pictures of my dewberry picking experience!

      

           

As a small plug, Mark has also started beekeeping and has made his own chapstick. Check it out here!

I would love to hear about it if you made your own cobblers with different ingredients. Leave a comment, or follow me on Twitter and tell me about it there. I’m at lettherebefood. Can’t wait to hear your stories. Happy eating!

Berries that I picked!

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