One Of Iconic Food Critic Mimi Sheraton's Favorite Meals Was A Simple Fig

A pioneer for women and foodies alike, the late Mimi Sheraton was the first woman food critic for The New York Times. Along with thousands of restaurant reviews, she also wrote an astounding 16 books about food informed by decades of dining experiences both in New York and abroad.

Among the panoply of noteworthy publications featuring Sheraton's work was a 2013 article in the Smithsonian entitled: "Mimi Sheraton's 10 Most Memorable Meals." While half the list describes the opulent meals and exclusive dishes you'd expect from a world-class food critic, the other half consists of ordinary, everyday foods that had revelatory effects. Among the latter included Sheraton's first bite of fresh fig.

Sheraton describes the experience in colorful detail, starting with a stunning visual of plump figs growing from a tree in an Italian garden. The depiction of the fruit, its taste, and texture assumed a "sheer ecstasy," as fleeting and exciting as a shooting star. This simple fig represents the irreplicable novelty of life's firsts. To that point, Sheraton said that no subsequent fresh figs ever came close to matching the magnificence of the first one.

Figs: fresh vs. dried

Part of Sheraton's culinary epiphany was the contrast between fresh and dried figs. Both have their merits, and both taste delicious on their own or in more elaborate fig-focused dishes. Sheraton explained that she had never tried a fresh fig, which speaks to their elusiveness.

Figs are summer harvests, with the largest fig-producing countries concentrated in Southeastern Europe and North Africa. In the U.S., practically all fresh fig varieties come from California. However, due to their short shelf life, 90% of local and global fig crops are converted into dried figs. So, unless you frequent summer farmers markets in California or Mediterranean countries, you're probably more accustomed to eating dried figs like Sheraton.

While the nutritional difference is minimal, the taste and texture difference between fresh and dried figs is especially striking. Dried figs have chewy, thick skin with an ultra-sweet, gummy, and crunchy interior, while fresh figs are subtly sweet with floral notes, velvety skin, and a dense, grainy pulp.

One of the biggest differences between fresh and dried figs is the way they look. Dried figs are shriveled and monochrome, with varying tones of brown. Fresh figs run the color spectrum from deep purples and pinks to bright greens and yellows, making them a far more impressive ingredient for presentation. If you've never tried a fresh fig, you might just encounter as radical a sensory experience as Sheraton so artfully expressed.