Figs are a late summer crop, ripening after months of heat and dryness, and right now the Black Mission figs, Brown Turkey figs and pale green Kadotas are starting to hit their stride. In Southern California, where fruit trees can be found on street corners, overhanging alleys and sidewalks and, if you're lucky, either your own or your neighbor's yard, you may walk out one morning to find a dozen of them hanging, perfectly ripe, from a branch: accidental, beautiful, utterly practical. Figs are surprisingly fragile and ephemeral, and thus best eaten quickly. Their soft, leathery skin, which houses an architectural system of tiny florets -- it's not really a fruit, but an inverted flower -- is delicate and left for even a few days, their rich interior can lose flavor and get woody in texture. Refrigerate them, because they spoil very quickly. Or just eat them off the tree. And you can use the leaves too: blanch them, wrap them around a cube of feta cheese or a lamb meatball and throw them on the grill.
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