Fallen Figs

The most local bounty of all: harvesting fruit falling from our neighborhood street trees.

By Kristin Belz October 7, 2012


Sometimes local fruit doesn’t even have to travel from as far away as the farmers market. I was reminded of this recently as I took a walk on one of these gorgeous fall afternoons we’ve been having. Moseying down the sidewalk, I stepped on something squishy – a fig, it turns out. Sure enough, looking up at the branches of the leafy tree above, I saw a bounty of figs.

It is prime fig season, and the Portland Fruit Tree Project knows this. It is their mission to make sure no fruit goes to waste, so this is a busy time of year. Apples and pears of course are upon us, but at least they last a bit longer on and off the tree. Figs are not so sturdy. All the better to get them fresh from your own or a neighbor’s tree. (Those figs I found? I swear I didn’t steal any! That wouldn’t have been neighborly.)

The Portland Fruit Tree Project is having a Harvesting Party Thursday, October 11, to gather the grapes and figs ripe for the picking in the Irvington and Boise neighborhoods of Northeast. If you’re able to be even more spontaneous, join in on harvesting Asian pears and apples in Sullivan’s Gulch tonight, October 9. (Harvesting parties are from 4.30 pm to 6.30 pm; call 503-284-6106 to reserve a spot.)

Having grown up in an American suburb a good number of years ago, when I think of figs, I think of Fig Newtons. Of course, by now I know that there are other things to do with them – that they aren’t naturally a purply brown paste peaking out of a layer of cardboard-like cookie. Figs are great sliced fresh, drizzled in balsamic vinegar, tossed with a bit of sugar.

But to revisit childhood, and improve upon it too, you might try making your own fig newtons. The iconic Nabisco cookie was invented by a baker in Philadelphia, Charles Rosen, who named it after his hometown, Newton, Mass. Here's a recipe for homemade, from Jennifer of the beautiful blog Eat Your Vegetables.

Fresh Fig Newtons

1 pound fresh figs, cut in half
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup orange juice, or water with the juice of half a lemon
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/2 a cup sugar
1/2 a teaspoon orange zest, finely grated
1 large egg white
1/2 a teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
(1/2 a teaspoon freshly ground cinnamon plus a small pinch of nutmeg)

Using a spoon, scoop the flesh out of each fig half and add to a saucepan along with sugar and orange juice or water. Simmer over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until thickened to a spreadable consistency. It will set up a little more as it cools. Transfer to refrigerator to chill with dough.

To make the dough: cream together the butter, sugar, and orange zest in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Beat 2-3 minutes on medium speed. Scrape; add egg white and vanilla and beat until smooth. Add flour along with spices and a small pinch of salt if you’d like; beat on low speed just until the dough comes together. Wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 and line cookie sheets with parchment or silpats.

On a floured surface, roll dough to a 12×16 rectangle. Cut into 4 equal strips, each 12×4. Spoon a line of fig filling down the center of each strip. Fold dough over filling and press the seam together. Flip over so the seam is facing down, and cut each log into 10 cookies. Transfer to cookie sheets.

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