Figs come in many varieties, with skins ranging in colour from pale yellow-green to deep-hued green-tinged purple. The seed-filled pulp runs through the spectrum of colours, from light green to deep pinkish-red.
At their very best, whether fresh or dried, they have a rich and sweet taste.
Most figs are now grown around the Mediterranean, away from their Asian origins. Turkey is a major producer of Smyrna figs, which are considered to be the best dried variety, while California produces Calimyrna with its distinctive yellow-green colour - the American version of Smyrna.
Available from September to November, fresh figs have a delicate bloom on their skin. Steer clear of any with soft, overly squishy spots, but they shouldn't be too firm either.
Available all-year round, the best quality figs are dried in the sun before they're sterilised and packaged. The heat bakes a layer of sugar onto the fruit's surface as it dries, which acts as a natural preservative.
IN THE KITCHEN
A classic accompaniment to thin slices of prosciutto ham, fresh figs also marry well with cheese, especially mild creamy goat's cheese. Fresh and dried figs make good matches with smoked salmon and cream cheese.
Satisfyingly sweet to eat on their own, fresh figs are also tasty when halved and grilled with a brown sugar and cinnamon topping. Serve these figs warm with dollops of mascarpone cheese.
Honey marries well with fresh figs, as do creamy desserts, especially rice puddings and yogurts.
These make a festive wintery dessert when poached in spiced syrup, flavoured with a dash of port and cinnamon and cloves. This way, they'll keep for a couple of months when stored in sterilised jars.
...are often used in stuffings for roasted game, poultry and pork. Their sweetness works particularly well with citrus fruit, spices and nuts.
... are great for baking with - try using them instead of raisins when making biscuits.