Fig Fest Favorites

When I was getting ready to go to the market and to Fig Fest on Saturday, I thought to myself, “I’ll just eat a little breakfast. I don’t want to be totally not hungry when I get there.” So I made myself my regular amount of oatmeal and ate about half of it, figuring (heh!) I was leaving room for figs.

Boy, did that come back to bite me. I had worried that maybe there wouldn’t be that many things for me to eat as an herbivore, but that certainly wasn’t a problem. There were plenty of things for a vegetarian to eat – and you’ll see my favorites below – but most of my favorites were sweets. By 10 a.m., I had such a sugar rush on that my head felt like it was vibrating. I wished I’d had more oatmeal.

Here’s the scene, at 9 a.m., pre-event: an enormous tent, matched by a similarly enormous line out front. A few people are clearly chomping at the bit, calling out “Open the gate!” I walked down one side of the tent outside to get the lay of the land (read: see where the best-looking snacks were) before getting in line. Following are my favorites of the day, in no particular order. Keep in mind that admission to this event was only $5.
Five dollars! Seriously!
And look at what there was to choose from, from some of the best restaurants in the area:

Bistro Rustico’s Grilled Fig and Candied Lemon Truffles

To be fair, I took this picture by sneaking into the tent before the event opened. I hadn’t paid for my wristband yet, so I didn’t take a truffle. And after that I never could manage to fight my way back to Bistro Rustico’s table to get one of these. However, I’ve had so many things made by Varouj that I’ve enjoyed that I’m going to put this among the favorites just on the concept.

Pangea’s Crostata with Honey-Mascarpone Cream, Sliced Almonds and Fresh Figs

The cream is a cream cheese/sour cream mixture with honey; it was appropriately sweet to match with the figs, but not so much so as to be cloying. The almonds were toasted and perfectly crisp and the pastry was light and sweet-cracker like.

Cracked Pepper’s Chocolate Fig Terrine with Port Wine

This was a bad thing to eat first thing in the morning, but oh, it was wonderful. The sweet, grainy figs were perfect with the chocolate and the port. On my first bite, I said to Vachte, “Is this basically a slice of ganache I’m eating?”

“Yes,” he replied.

You can’t go wrong with chocolate and cream.

Vachte also brought along his fig baklava, which I also enjoyed, and fig-glazed chicken wings, which looked beautiful. Market manager Felix told me later she absolutely loved the latter, but of course, I had to take a pass. Wonder if I could wheedle the recipe out of him to try the glaze on fried tofu?

Trelio Restaurant’s Goat’s Milk Ice Cream with Fig Syrup, Tahitian Vanilla Bean and Chocolate Mint

When Mike Shackleford from Trelio came to do the Chefs at the Market event, he did a salad that had chocolate mint in it. I thought it was inspired. I grew chocolate mint a couple years ago, and I had the toughest time finding ways to use it. I decided not to grow it again, but Mike might have changed my mind now. This was a mixed-milk ice cream, cow and goat. The fig syrup threw me at first – looking at it, I thought it was caramel, but of course, this is the Fig Fest, and it had much more depth than a plain old caramel.

The Chef’s Table’s Marinated Chinese Long Bean and Dried Fig Salad with Toasted Almonds and Olive Vinaigrette

I was delighted to see the matchups that the different chefs had chosen for the fig. This was one of a handful of savory dishes that got me thinking about how I could make more use of figs. The nicoise olive dressing was out of this world – I’m not sure I fully appreciated it after the copious dose of sugar I’d just ingested (did I mention I ate too much sugar?) but it was wonderful.

Elderberry House’s Linzer Cookies with Elderberry-Fig Jam

This was the lightest, most delicate melt-in-your-mouth cookie I’ve had in ages. It took ages to get to the Elderberry House table – everybody else was trying to do the same thing. I’ll admit, when I got there, I momentarily thought, “Just cookies?” but their simplicity was perfect and well-exceeded by their excellence.

The Vintage Press’s Fig Salad with Arugula & Balsamic Syrup and Goat Cheese Crostini

This little salad with a goat cheese crostini was a savory relief after all the sweets. The balsamic syrup was another excellent match to the figs. As with Pangea’s honey cream, the Vintage Press had managed to match the figs’ level of sweetness without the dressing veering into overload.

After I’d made my rounds of the tent, I was chatting with Shelby of Lone Willow Ranch (they grow tomatoes, she told me, and that’s an enormous understatement) when Tom Willey of TD Willey Farms took the stage to introduce Alice Waters.

Fresno had really made a showing for Alice. The parking lot was packed, the market was packed, the Fig Fest tent was packed. I was able to grab a seat to listen, though.

Alice began by saying that she’d known Tom for decades, and for years he’d been inviting her to come down to the Valley. The combination of how far it was and how hot it was had kept her away for a number of years, she’d said. But she’d braved the highway and the heat – and was glad she had.

She was very complimentary of the market – products to equal of those she’d seen anywhere, she said – and the market’s pavilion, with its high arch and grapevine cover. She launched into her passions: she talked about the benefit of human connection with the people who grow our food and fairly valuing that, as well as the necessity of teaching children to enjoy good food, and the ease of doing so by involving them in it directly, like her Edible Schoolyard work. By the end of her brief talk, I had tears in my eyes; I’m passionate about working to get the world eating better food too. Of course, it could have been all that sugar throwing me off the deep end. Did I mention I ate too much sugar?

After Alice, I stopped back at the Slow Food Madera table to talk to Shelby again and write a check for my membership. Then I headed back down to the market entrance to show Michele the pictures I’d taken of Alice. While I was standing there at the booth, Felix came walking toward me purposefully. She was clearly looking for me for some reason. Why, I thought?

“I’m so glad I found you. Someone just came up to me and said they have two extra tickets for the Fig Dinner and asked if I knew anyone who wanted them.”

Once I got done having Felix assure me she was serious, I squealed, hugged her, and jumped up and down for the second time that morning, then ran to my car to get my checkbook.

I was going to be able to keep the promise I made to myself last summer on my birthday, the day of the Fig Fest and the Fig Dinner, when I’d been to the market for the briefest of moments and was back home lying in bed, exhausted from that brief exertion to the degree that I was too sick to sit up. I was going to get to the Fig Dinner next year, I promised myself, and it turned out that I was going to get to the Fig Dinner after all.

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