Figs most likely originated in southern Arabia, with the first cultivated fig industry in western Asia or Asia Minor, notes the California Fig Advisory Board. Mentions of figs appear in the Bible, and the trees have been considered sacred in many countries. Today, figs are found worldwide. Figs ripen best in strong sun, although too much water can cause them to spoil on the tree. The California Fig Advisory Board says figs are the only fruit to fully ripen and begin to dry before falling off the tree. Figs largely stop ripening once they're picked, so plucking the fruit at the right time is crucial.
Find out what variety of fig you are dealing with. Color is an important sign of ripeness but varies between varieties. some develop a golden yellow -- as opposed to green -- color. Other varieties take on a purple or deep red color when ripe.
Press the flesh very gently. It should give, much like a ripe peach, but not be mushy. Leave the fig to ripen longer if the flesh is still hard. Test several fruits to get a point of comparison.
Look for signs the figs are drooping on the branch. Unripe figs will stand straight out from the branch, defying gravity, while ripe figs begin to sag downward. Check the fig for signs of a curved stem.
Examine the outside of the fruit. Slight splits or tears indicates the fruit is probably ripe. Refrain from over-handling the fruit when you're examining it, as this can damage the fig. Remember that heavy rains can also cause splitting, so keep the season's weather in mind before relying on skin splits as a sign of ripeness.
Act quickly to harvest the fig when you notice signs of ripeness. The fruit ripens quickly and a delay in harvesting can lead to a spoiled fig -- or an attack on the fruit by birds.
Place under-ripe figs on a sunny windowsill for two days to encourage more ripening. Although figs don't ripen well off of the tree, this can help figs become more edible.