California Figs: The Seeds of Supper

A Ramblings, Random, San Francisco post written by on October 7, 2014

California Figs

I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.

sylvia p., the bell jar


It was a supper that birthed another, a friend of a friend, a car drive, the piercing sun of an October Saturday that made our trio a sweaty spectre – we went fig picking, but we picked up so so much more. Alanna picked me up in the car, I had picked up three donuts and a latte, but it should have been 3 lattes and a donut. We were accompanied by her friend (a fruitful connection); we made our way across the bridge towards pasture lands of fig trees, free pumpkins, and free apples; we watched a honey harvest; and I ate a dried fig that was but a whisper of a shell for seeds. Some of the other drying figs were juicier and made a perfect home for maggots. I think I swallowed a few in my eagerness to try naturally sun-dried figs. It’s a lot funnier than it looks, here on this page.

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We made it home in our sweaty shells bursting with fatigue and eagerness. Nik joined us for a brainstorming session and we came up with some astonishing revelations about the unripened version of the feminine fruit. During the first few hours of fig picking, I noticed that my arm had grown irritated, red, scratched – all from hugging figgy branches. After a soapy rinse, it felt better, but I thought little about it because I was under the intoxication of a fig-fever. Physical discomfort? I noticed none. Of course, I am not sensible, so don’t follow my lead. You should most definitely pick figs wearing long sleeves and gloves. The plant’s white, toxic latex discharges each time the fruit is severed from the branch – an annoying side-effect from an otherwise pleasant and delicious activity. Wear gloves, even if you must sweat, unless you have arms of leather, in which case, I must ask you to come harvest my figs.

Of course, the fig-latex-drama was not quite over. I had originally planned on cooking unripe, green figs: tough, un-chewable nuggets. I discovered that these were filled with latex. Luckily, after some very thorough research, we found a way to remove the toxins from figs – the same process that’s applied to acorns to make them edible: heavy, repeated boiling. In fact, this is a common treatment to make use of an otherwise forgotten, wasted fig that will likely never mature, especially late in the season as it is now.

If you have a fig tree, you can harvest baby green figs to make Sikalai Gliko. It’s a Greek tradition, but just a bit of warning – when Nik prepared the figs, the latex sap stuck to the pots and were nearly impossible to remove. Be sure to use something old that you’re not attached to… which brings me to the last bit of news and why there are no photos of recipes or anything cooked in this post. We’re making a collaborative dinner. It’s a heavy undertaking. Sometimes when I peek at the menu I get a tang of guilt for asking so much of friends but I also beam with pleasure because I love cooking and feeding with people I admire. It’s one of the things I miss most about the friends I left behind when I moved to San Francisco. For a long time, I thought it would be impossible to attain, here, in this sprawling city of food-lovers, ironically, I had failed to make the right connections and was subsequently cooking for just a few and cooking with even fewer people. It’s from this blog that I found Alanna and Nik and now we’re making food among ourselves and for our friends and that’s a joy I’m moving towards, this Wednesday. Of course, that means that I’m spending less time on here sharing the actual recipes, but I hope that I will find you at my table, eventually. I’ll pick a few recipes to edit, tweak, and share but this cooking endeavor is easier than writing and more real than photos. I have so many more photos, a recipe of something I made last week, and a ton of ideas I need to polish. They are all coming. Until then, you can join me this Wednesday, I’m cooking up California Figs with some of my favorite people – our people, because I know my friends are reading this and I must say thank you, from the bottom of my figgy-belly for the eternal support, the last attendance was a joy.


For fig recipes and more fig-picking photos, check out Nik and Alanna’s respective posts:

Huckleberry Fig Shrub

Indian Sweet Rice with Figs & Nuts


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To join us for 8 courses of California Figs, RSVP here: . The Menu:

Sikalai Gliko on Gluten-Free Crackers with Dukkah A greek method of cooking and preserving unripened baby figs – served on crunchy crackers baked with dukkah, an Egyptian spice blend of nuts, herbs, and savory spices.

Shaved Apples and Fennel with Fig and Pomegranate Salad … and topped with fresh fig and pink pomegranate arils.

Fig Tagine with Defrosted Grapes Served with herby couscous.

Lettuce Cups with Lemony Herbs & Cheese Stuffed Figs in Filo

Fig & Pumpkin Samosa “Pot Pie” Served with Hot Date & Tamarind Sauce, Unripened Fig Chutney.

Olive Oil Ice Cream with Fig Syrup Swirl Served with crispy fig chips and toasted pistachios.

Double Chocolate Figs Fresh figs stuffed with brandy ganache, then, dipped in chocolate.

Fig Leaf and Vanilla Bean Soda


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13 Responses to “California Figs: The Seeds of Supper”

  1. The part of me who always tries to reach out for the stars is making a secret (not anymore though) plan to get a last minute flight to SF just so I could attend your fig dinner. You three are going to do amazing!
    P.S. These pics from you fig harvest trip are so dreamy! Mushroom foraging may be something that’s utterly normal here in Scandinavia but harvesting figs? Man, this is what I’m going to dream about next night (sans the latex issue that is).

    • phi says:

      No way, mushroom pickings are absolutely the best! So long as you don’t get snakes or poisonous mushrooms!! hahaha. even Food and Wine thinks so!

  2. Wow, what a story! I had a similar experience mango picking. Apparently, unripe mangoes also secrete a sap that causes itching, rashes, and other skin irritations. We didn’t know it when we went mango picking, five girls in not much more than a bathing suit, sneaking into a private mango grove. When the guards drove past us, we panicked so much we stuffed the mangoes into our bathing suit tops, our shorts, anywhere they could fit… Funny enough, the guards just waved at us and laughed! And we were rewarded with a horrendous rash in all sorts of unsightly places. So I learned my lesson after that.

  3. Sophie says:

    I love sylvia p’s quote at the beginning of this post – it resonates. I wish I could be in SF for your dinner too, sounds incredible! And yes, I picked mangoes for three weeks as a summer job during uni, and they do contain the white sap (I also love the story from the comment above re stuffing them into the shorts – ouch!!). We used to wear long cotton sleeves with gloves up to your elbows, and with a basic solution wash every hour or so. You can avoid the sap if you twist the fruit off the tree at the right angle…. which probably leads to RSI if you pick for too long… anyway, there’s nothing like sitting down in a mango grove eating the fruits of your labour.

  4. My only regret is not being able to go fig picking with you two! But damn you guys collected a huge bounty and this has been such a fun time.

  5. I’m SO SAD to be out of town for this – I love figs so much, I buy all of them at the farmer’s market. This looks amazing!!!

  6. So, so excited for this! I can’t believe it’s in just a few hours!

  7. What a wonderful fig excursion! Wish I could attend the cooking club! Enjoy! x

  8. It was such a pleasure to join you for the fig supper club! Every dish tasted like it was made with such soul – I’ll dine at your table any night of the week. Let’s start milling flours (e-mailing you now!)

  9. christina says:

    I would so love to join you one night to cook together. It’s so wonderful to cook with people who also love to cook. I think it also takes that stress away that I usually have when I cook with/for people who don’t enjoy the process. Maybe some day I will find myself in San Francisco and join you. I have the same issue with figs – for the longest time my family would always warn us not to touch the white milk. They also told us not to grab the cactus pears when we were little … ignoring my aunt’s advice didn’t end well in that case. xxx

  10. What a fabulous harvest, figs are almost ready here in Brooklyn, I cannot wait to incorporate them into recipes.

  11. […] credits: Yosemite Floating | Kanelbullar Rolls | Picking Figs | Canoeing | Pouring Red | Hilltop […]

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