Fig, Goat Cheese, and Honey Tart
The fig (ficus carica) is an early symbol of peace and prosperity. Figs come from one of the oldest cultivated plants in history, most likely grown in the Middle East, Africa, or Asia. Evidence has found the fig dates back to at least 9200 BC, during the Neolithic period. Adam and Eve used a fig leaf to cover, umm... more than their figs, and there has been a long-known debate that the "forbidden fruit" that Eve ate was a fig, not an apple. By the 15th century, the fig tree was grown worldwide, including in Northern Europe. The fig was used in cooking and even swapped for sugar as a sweetener. They were introduced to South Carolina by the Spanish explorers arriving from Cuba in 1575. Other explorers brought them to Virginia from Bermuda in the 1600s. Finally, the Spanish Missionaries brought the fig to America in the 1700s when they came to establish the Catholic missions in Southern California, which is why we call the most popular type of fig in the US "Mission Figs." The first president of the United States, George Washington, had such a fondness for the fruit that he would order them from the West Indies as long as they were reasonably priced. I hear you, George; the delicious little fruit can be a pricy produce.
Hundreds of fig varieties range from deep purple to white and come in oval and round shapes. The most common figs are Mission (deep purple), Brown Turkey (pear-shaped and brown), Calimyrna (white flesh and green-skinned), and Smyrna (which come from Turkey). Fresh figs are primarily available from May to November, depending on the variety. It is assumed that figs only grow in dry, warm climates, but where I live in a northern coastal area in the US (Cape Cod), they grow exceptionally well. My harvest from my fig trees this year was abundant, mostly ripening in early October, but I was still picking them off at the end of the month. When I gently pull them off, a milky fluid is formed between the fruit and the tree, which reseals the figs to retain freshness. The fruit stays fresh for about five days, seven if I store them in the refrigerator.
In addition to fresh, figs can be purchased candied, dried, or canned in a sweetened syrup. Figs can be served fresh, dried, and used in baking or savory dishes. For example, I used figs in my Welsh Rarebit and Bacon Jam recipes.
This recipe, which comes from my Poldark cookbook, makes a buttery orange tart with honey and cream layers topped by the recipe's star, figs. It is delicious the day you make it but even more divine the next day. If you cannot find fresh figs, any mild sweet fruit will work, like cherries, pears, and apples.