Emmanuelle Jary - 2010-10-04
Autumn is fig season and many varieties are available in shops and markets - most of them from Turkey. One of the best dried figs you can buy is the Smyrna fig produced in the Izmir region.
Turkey is the world’s number one producer of Smyrna figs, responsible for 55,000 of the world’s 95,000 tons annually. Iran, Egypt and Morocco are among the other major producers. Generally cultivated in hilly and mountainous regions, figs have found a welcome home in the large and small basins of Turkey’s Buyuk Menderes River. Located near the Aegean Sea, the region benefits from relatively mild winters and hot summers, well-suited to drying the figs. The area’s atmospheric humidity is another beneficial factor in the cultivation of this unique fruit.
Only two varieties lend themselves to drying: the yellow Sari Trybek which represents just 10% of the harvest and the Sari Lop, accounting for 90% of the total dried Smyrna fig production. Rather surprisingly, figs dry directly on the tree and don’t fall until they are perfectly ripe. They are gathered after they have fallen and left in the sun for a few hours before being conditioned for sale. Nature does nearly all of the work - the main task for fig-harvesters is to pick the sugary, sun-soaked fruit up from the ground.
A good dried fig is recognisable by its skin. Of a lovely golden hue, it should be neither too wrinkled nor too thick. The aperture should be small and tightly closed. Figs are best conserved in a dry, air-free environment at 12 - 16 °C, conditions under which they will keep their nutritional qualities for one year.