While there’s no shortage of dried figs around town (or, for that matter, Fig Newtons), fresh ones are a much more elusive species. The season for fresh figs is short, occurring up north in the latter half of the summer and typically lasting only a handful of weeks. So it’s no exaggeration to say their first appearance is, for fruit aficionados, an event on par with the arrival of Holland herring season.
While you can find them at higher-end stores like Dean & DeLuca, where they’re sold for $6 a pint, you can also find them at a number of sidewalk fruit carts. The above were purchased for $2 from a cart on the corner of Rivington and Essex streets. There are several varieties of figs, but the most common to New York’s fruit carts seems to be purple Black Missions — which are pictured above — and light green Calimyrnas.
Both Black Missions and Calimyrnas are characterized by soft skin; luscious, velvety flesh; and abundant but edible seeds. Based upon their appearance and texture alone, it’s no mystery why figs have long enjoyed a reputation as an aphrodisiac — they’ve been associated with fertility all the way back to the ancient Greeks.
More recently, the fruit has been associated with a shamelessly exaggerated East Coast-West Coast culinary rivalry, which shouldn’t detract from the more pertinent fact that, in these parts at least, they’re a rare treat and should be consumed accordingly. Though they’re excellent in pies, tarts, and cakes, or roasted and served with honey and goat cheese, they’re also wonderful eaten on their own, straight out of the container. Just eat them quickly: Left at room temperature, they last only a couple of days. They’ll last a few days more in the refrigerator, but like the season itself, their life span is all too brief.
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