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Figs: Picking Tips, Facts and Recipes: Great things to make from fresh figs

Fig Facts and Picking Tips

Many Americans have never eaten a fresh fig.  I blame fig newtons and dried figs - those are NOTHING like a fresh fig.  A fresh fig tastes like a mix of a peach and a strawberry!

In the U.S., Figs typically peak from July through first frost in the South, and from August and later in the North.  Usually the trees produce a crop within a month, and then nothing for several months, so check your local farm to find out when they will be in season.  In the north, most trees only produce one crop per season.  In order to produce good local Figs, producers depend on ideal spring and early summer weather conditions, and no late frosts.

Fig Varieties.

There are hundreds of fig varieties but the following are most commonly found in U.S. farms and markets.

Brown Turkey Figs: has brownish / copper-colored skin, often with hints of purple, and mostly pink/red flesh with some white flesh. This variety is used exclusively for the fresh fig market and is common at PYO farms..

Celeste figs are about the size of an egg, a purplish-brown when ripe, and a dark, sweet, moist, purple flesh inside.

The Calimyrna Fig: Is known for its nut-like flavor and golden skin. This type is commonly eaten as is.

The Mission Fig: Was named for the mission fathers who planted the fruit along the California coast. This fig is a deep purple which darkens to a rich black when dried. Often called "black mission figs".Common figs

The Kadota Fig: Is the American version of the original Italian Dattato fig, that is thick-skinned with a creamy amber color when ripe. Practically seedless, this fig is often canned and dried. A similar variety is the "Peter's Honey" fig.  Birds often leave these alone, because, since they are green when ripe, the birds don't know they're ripe!

How to know when a fig is ripe

Color - Figs come in all colors from yellow, brown, red to purple, black and others! So you need to know what color the ripe fig is. The most commonly grown figs, Brown Turkey and Celeste are a golden yellow as shown at left when ripe.

Texture - Ripe Figs Become soft like a peach when ripe, but they should not be mushy or fall apart!

Fig Picking Tips

Figs grown on low, open trees, with no thorns and soft leaves, so they're very easy to pick!  The ripe figs will separate easily from the tree when you lift them upwards from  their normal drooping position. The ripe figs definitely droop a bit and feel softer.  Unripe figs are harder, more firmly attached and do not droop. Note the orange, drooping Celeste figs at left.
Figs must be picked ripe from the trees, since they do not ripen once picked.  See the photo of unripe figs at left. They are small, hard, and not their proper color. Of course, there are some figs, like LSU Gold, Peter's Honey, or Italian figs that are greenish-yellow when ripe, too.

Fig sap allergy?

I have heard and verified that some people are allergic to the fig latex, a milky white liquid produced by the fig tree and develop contact rashes. Just like with other latex allergies, if this applies to you be sure to wear and long sleeves when you pick and wear the appropriate type of gloves when picking or handling figs!

Storing fresh figs

Figs won't last long at room temperature, but a mildly cool refrigerator will keep them several days.

Freezing Figs

Freeze within 12 hours of picking time, if possible.  Prepare and freeze Figs only about 3 pints at one time. Then repeat the process until all Figs are frozen.

  1. Make a medium sweetness syrup of
    3 cups sugar
    4 cups water
    The figs will taste slightly sweeter than desired at this stage to be the proper flavor after freezing. Simply stir the sugar into the water to dissolve. No heating is necessary.
  2. To the sugar syrup, add an citric/ascorbic add mixture bought at the grocery store (for example, "Fruit Fresh") and follow the directions on the package, generally adding about 1 teaspoon per batch.  This is to help preserve color and flavor.
  3. Wash the figs. remove the stems and any soft spots. Slice the figs about 1/4-inch (1/2 cm) thick.
  4. Pack the sliced figs into polyethylene containers, ziploc bags, or vacuum freezer bags, allowing room to add about 1/2 cup of sugar syrup, and allowing about 1/2 inch per pint expansion room. More room will be needed for larger containers. Pack the containers to force out as much air as possible since air dries out the figs when they freeze. Be sure to label and date containers.
  5. Place containers as quickly as possible into the coldest part of your freezer, allowing room around the containers to promote fast freezing. Containers can be packed more economically after they are frozen solid, usually 24 hours.

When you are ready to eat them, thaw the frozen figs in the refrigerator in the container.

Fig Preserving and Recipes:


Common Fig Varieties and Uses


Fruit Color

Fruit Size

For Fresh Use

For Jams and Preserves

Adriatic ( also called Fragola, Strawberry Fig, Verdone, White Adriatic) Greenish skin , flesh is strawberry colored Small to medium Good Good
Alma Greenish brown Small  Very good  Good
Black Mission Black purple skin with
Flesh watermelon to pink,
Medium Good Good. Easily dried at home.
Brown Turkey Bronze  ( yellow/brown) Medium to large Good  Excellent
Celeste Lt. brown  to violet  Medium Very good  Excellent
Green Ischia Bright green Medium  Good Good (seeds
Hunt Dull bronze with specks Small to medium Good Excellent
Italian Honey fig, Peter's Honey skin yellowish green, flesh white to amber Medium to large Very good,
very sweet, lemon flavor
Very good
Kadota  Bright greenish-yellow Medium to large  Fair  Excellent
Magnolia  Bronze with 
white flecks
Medium  Fair Excellent

Other variants are:

  • There are five varieties of Celeste: giant, blue, golden, improved and regular.
  • LSU gold and purple;
  • Smith, which has a scarlet interior;
  • Clement, a Mediterranean variety;
  • Alma;
  • Hardy Chicago; and
  • Camelle.
  • More information: see Figs 4 Fun: Said to be the largest database of information about figs (Ficus carica) that is available on the internet.

Nutritional Information

Figs Serving Size 1/2 cup raw (74g)

Amounts Per Serving % Daily Value
Calories 90  
Calories from Fat 0  
Total Fat 0g 0%
 Saturated Fat 0g 0%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 0mg 0%
Total Carbohydrate 24g 8%
  Dietary Fiber 2g 7%
  Sugars 11g
Protein 1g
Vitamin A 15%
Vitamin C 25%
Calcium 0%
Iron 2%

* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.

Below is the USDA's Food Value Per 100 g of Edible Figs

Fresh Dried
Calories 80 274
Moisture 77.5-86.8g 23.0g
Protein 1.2-1.3g 4.3g
Fat 0.14-0.30g 1.3g
Carbohydrates 17.1-20.3g 69.1g
Fiber 1.2-2.2 g 5.6 g
Ash 0.48 0.85 g 2.3 g
Calcium 35-78.2 mg 126 mg
Phosphorus 22-32.9 mg 77 mg
Iron 0.6-4.09 mg 3.0 mg
Sodium 2.0 mg 34 mg
Potassium 194 mg 640 mg
Carotene 0.013-0.195 mg 0
as Vitamin A 20-270 I.U. 80 I.U.
Thiamine 0.034-0.06 mg 0.10 mg
Riboflavin 0.053-0.079 mg 0.10 mg
Niacin 0.32-0.412 mg 0.7 mg
Ascorbic Acid 12.2-17.6 mg 0 mg
Citric Acid 0.10-0.44 mg

Note: There are small amounts of malic, boric and oxalic acids.

Growing tips


While there is some variation among varieties of figs, most like hot climates but can tolerate temperatures down to 10 F to 20 F with mulch or in favorable sites. If it gets and stays colder than that, any above ground growth will be killed off and the tree can regrow from the roots in the Spring. Of course, if it stays that cold for long, the roots can die, too. Brown Turkey, Brunswick and Blue Celeste are more cold tolerant than most of the others.

 Figs like a dry climate with light early spring rains. Too much water during fruit development and ripening can be detrimental to the crop, causing the fruits to split.  But very hot, dry spells will cause fruit-drop even if the trees are irrigated.


Figs require full sun most of the day to ripen. Trees can become enormous, and will shade out anything growing beneath. Roots spread, traveling far beyond the tree canopy. Figs are not a fruit tree for tight quarters. The fine roots that invade garden beds, however, may be cut without loss to the tree. In areas with short (less than 120 days between frosts), cool summers, you cvan prune the trees to grow against a southern-facing wall (called an espalier).  If you are growing them in a container; replace most of the soil in the tub every three years and keep the sides of the tub shaded to prevent overheating in sunlight.

Soil and Fertilizer

The fig can be grown on a wide range of soils; light sand, rich loam, heavy clay or limestone, providing there is sufficient depth and food drainage. Sandy soil that is medium-dry and contains a good deal of lime is preferred when the crop is intended for drying. Highly acid soils are unsuitable. The pH should be between 6.0 and 6.5. The tree is fairly tolerant of moderate salinity.

Pests and Diseases

 Gophers like to eat fig tree roots.  Deer are not particularly attracted to fig trees or fruit, but birds can cause a lot of damage, pecking at the ripe fruits. Varieties that are green or yellow when ripe tend top attract fewer birds.

 Nematodes, particularly in sandy soils, attack roots, forming galls and stunting the trees. Mitadulid and Carpophilus dried fruit beetles can enter ripening fruit through the eye and cause damage by introducing fungi and rots. They frequently breed in fallen citrus fruits. Keep a clean orchard by destroy fallen fruits and do not grow near citrus trees.

Mosaic virus, formerly considered benign, probably causes crop reduction. Symptoms resemble potassium deficiency--leaves are marbled with yellow spots, and the veins are light colored. Symptoms are often not apparent until the tree is older or when it becomes heat or water-stressed. .


Fig trees are easily propagated through cuttings. In September or October, make a cutting and put it in a bucket with potting soil, or simply stick it in the ground and cover with mulch. One out of 10 will take, but once you've got a fig tree going, it's hard to kill. Protect it the first winter from frost with a deep mulch, and then it's on its own. After three years, it should start producing.

A reader suggests that the following method has a much higher rate of success. I've tried it and it does work well:

Take a low-growing branch, about quarter to half inch (5 - 15 mm) diameter, and bury part in the soil. Put a stone or brick on top of the submerged section to stop it getting pulled out by wind or passing animals. After a year it will have rooted. Cut the parent branch and pot up or plant out the new plant.

Fig Preserving Directions

Frequently Asked Questions About Figs

  1. Q: I don't have enough ripe figs to make a batch of jam yet - how do I keep the ones I've picked until I have enough to make jam? Can I make jam from frozen figs - if I use your method to freeze?

    A: I just prepare them as if I were going to use them (in jam making or whatever) by washing, then cutting the stems off and peeling them (I like them peeled), then I pack them in a ziploc bag and pop them in the freezer. A few weeks in the freezer like that till I accumulate enough to make jam, won't hurt them! I've keep them in the freezer as long as several months until I made jam!

  2. Q. Is it possible to be allergic to figs?  I get an itchy rash that looks like poison ivy after handling them.

    A. Yes, others have reported allergic reactions to handling and eating figs.  See this scientific report on the subject.  Skin reactions are more common after handling hot peppers and mangos (see this page for more information) but it is not unheard of with figs.


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