Last Saturday I was invited by Pam, of My Man’s Belly, to go with her to the Torrance Farmers Market to do an Ingredient Challenge. Each person buys an item they find at the farmers market for the other person to use in a recipe they create. Pam had done this previously with Greg, of SippitySup. He bought her sour plums and she bought him lavender, from which they created wonderful dishes. I was really looking forward to this adventure, wondering what Pam would pick for me, because her blog is very creative, with great recipes, beautiful photos and interesting relationship advice. I was imagining having to deal with some esoteric item totally unfamiliar to me.
The Torrance Farmers Market is held at Wilson Park and is about three times as big as my neighboring one in Manhattan Beach. It has all of the same seasonal produce, plus unusual vegetables like pebbly cucumbers, kohlrabi, daicon radishes and a lot of Japanese greens of different kinds. It also has more food vendors, including Bigmista’s Barbecue, which had a big write-up in the Los Angeles Times the previous Thursday.
After making a complete tour of the market, we hit the food stalls. Pam indulged in some French crepes with Grand Marnier sauce and I hit the Bigmista BBQ. This farmers market has a clutch of communal tables and chairs under a tent covering, so we sat there to eat. It was so nice to talk with another foodie, without having their eyes roll up in their head from boredom. Thank you Pam! And my Pulled Pork Sandwich was pretty good, too.
Next we were off to find our Challenge Ingredients. Earlier we had walked by a fresh mushroom vendor, so we segued over there. I bought Pam three huge Portobello mushrooms, which I would not have known what to do with, but her eyes lit up. She said she might make Portobello Mushroom Burgers. Oh, that sounded really good. I’m really looking forward to seeing what she ultimately creates.
We walked by a stall that had these beautiful Black Mission Figs, so I picked up a container and was admiring them. I must have been drooling, because Pam asked, amusedly, “Do you want to have figs as your ingredient?” Yes! I was so happy. I could hardly wait to get home and make something with them.
Although commonly referred to as a fruit, the fig fruit is actually the flower of the tree, known as inflorescence, in which the flowers and seeds grow together to form a single mass. The flower is not visible, as it blooms inside the fruit. The small orifice (ostiole) visible on the end of the fruit is a narrow passage, which allows a specialized wasp, the fig wasp, to enter the fruit and pollinate the flower, after which the fruit grows seeds inside.
The common fig probably originated in southern Arabia. Ancient records show the Sumerians (2900 B.C.) and Assyrians (2000 B.C.) were familiar with it. It slowly spread from there to Syria and the Mediterranean coast by seafaring Phoenicians and Greeks. Figs supposedly reached China in 127 A.D. and Cuba in 1526. Figs first entered the U.S. at Parris Island, South Carolina in 1575 and quickly spread throughout the area. Thomas Jefferson imported fig trees from France.
Figs came to California via Spanish missions in Mexico, and were spread by the Franciscan Missionaries. The first California figs were planted in 1769 in the gardens of the Mission at San Diego. California ranks third in world fig production after Turkey and Greece, and ahead of Spain and Portugal. California produces 100% of domestic fig production and 65% of the figs consumed in the country.
And I LOVE figs!
Fig Salad with Walnuts and Mint
Makes 4 servings
12 ripe figs
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey
1/3 cup raw walnut halves, very coarsely broken up, or more to taste
1/3 cup mint leaves, sliced very thinly length-wise
Kosher or sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Cut figs into quarters and place on serving plates.
2. Combine olive oil, lemon juice and honey in a small bowl. Beat with a spoon.
3. Sprinkle walnuts over fig quarters. Drizzle dressing over each fig quarter.
4. Add a light sprinkle of salt and black pepper over top.
5. Sprinkle mint over figs. Serve.