Fresh figs are in season at the moment and I am in love. I have been loading up on them because their availability will be limited. Their appearance is as exciting as the blooming of a garden flower that is fleetingly here and gone. They are so male, and yet so female. The fig is Yin-Yang.
I don’t know what it is about fresh figs – at the very first bite, it is as if some deep genetic marker is beckoned and rises to the surface of my being. Dried figs are not that exciting to me, but the fresh one are a total taste explosion. Alternating between visions of lush Mediterranean gardens, I also envision deserts and palm trees, olive oil and tahini, pomegranates and hot, bright sun. Celebrations with dancers, drums and ouds seem to appear in my head when I bite into a fresh fig. It’s one big Mind Party! What a rush!
The fig grows on a tree (Ficus carica) and is a fruit stemming from Biblical times, reportedly originating in southern Arabia. I believe it is part of the Mulberry family. Actually, I have been so thrilled about figs lately that I looked them up and found some great fig facts from the California Fig Advisory Board. Here are some of my favorites from there:
* Although considered a fruit, the fig is actually a flower that is inverted into itself. The seeds are drupes or the real fruit.
* For many years the fig has been used as a coffee substitute. The fruit contains a proteolytic enzyme that is considered an aid to digestion and is used by the pharmaceutical industry.
* Figs were regarded with such esteem that laws were created forbidding the export of the best quality figs. Sycophant then derives from the Greek word meaning one who informs against another for exporting figs or for stealing the fruit of the sacred fig trees. Hence, the word came to mean a person who tries to win favor with flattery.
* Figs were respected in ancient Rome and considered sacred, while according to myth, the twin founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, rested under a fig tree.
* Figs are mentioned in Homer’s Iliad, as well as the Odyssey; by Aristophanes, Herodotus and Cato; and the fig is reported to have been the favorite fruit of Cleopatra, with the asp that ended her life being brought to her in a basket of figs.
* Captain Bligh is credited with planting the first fig tree in Tasmania in 1792.
* Figs provide more fiber than any other common fruit or vegetable. The fiber in figs is both soluble and insoluble. Both types of fiber are important for good health.
There are many varieties, supposedly about 750 of them world wide, from Mediterranean and Asian areas, as well as in the United States. The ones I have been gushing over the past couple of weeks have been these luscious, large, organic Brown Turkey figs. When I couldn’t find those, I settled for some Black Mission figs.
The Moreton Bay Fig Tree is a spectacular historic tree in Santa Barbara, California. The Bible tells of Adam and Eve wearing fig leaves. Perhaps the offered apple was actually a sweet, delicious fig?
The fig achieves pollination by way of the tiny fig wasp, which is about 1 millimeter long. The wasp and fig have a symbiotic relationship where they are totally dependent upon each other for their survival, and each species of fig seems to have a corresponding species of fig wasp attached to it. It is kind of like a marriage, of sorts. This appeals to me.
And then, there are the recipes. Figs and fig jam pair beautifully with Spanish Manchego cheese. Figs, stuffed with goat cheese and almonds….. wrapped with prosciutto and broiled. Poached figs with honey cream. Figs in a balsamic reduction, or as a glaze on turkey or chicken. Figs in an arugula salad with pignoli nuts…..fig pizza. The possibilities are endless, and to die for…if you are a fresh fig lover. If you don’t have your own tree, or have not experienced the fresh figs of summer, check out your local market or farmstand and live it.