Figs, Ficus carica, are members of the mulberry family. Fresh figs are a lush, sweet, late summer delicacy. This season was especially bountiful, which is great news for those who are nearly addicted to this exotic fruit. One no longer needs to travel for a summer vacation in the Mediterranean to enjoy them. Figs are still a novelty in our region but are now slowly becoming worldwide favorites. With their popularity and availability, their price has dropped as well. Just a few years ago, one fig sold for about $1 but are now much more economical to purchase and available even in regular grocery stores.
Since Adam and Eve?
Recent discoveries in the Jordan Valley reveal that figs were among the first plants to be cultivated, even before wheat, as early as 9 000 years ago. Figs appear in several places in the Old and New Testaments making some biblical scholars believe that the forbidden fruit was a fig rather than an apple that Adam and Eve ate. Figs are symbolic in all major world religions representing fertility, peace, and prosperity and are served during major holidays.
Figs have two seasons; one in early summer and one in the early fall, depending on the variety. The second harvest fruit is usually sweeter and juicier. The figs come in “white” and “black” varieties with skins and inside flash ranging from light green and yellow to dark purple and black. When purchasing, look for plump and slightly soft fruit that has an intense fruity smell. Enjoy them quickly since their tender skins may make them prone to spoiling. Figs can grow easily in our region in a home garden. (See note at the end),
Fresh or Dried
When figs are mentioned, most people imagine Fig New Newtons cookies which have been around since 1891. Some of the more common varieties of fresh figs are the giant Turkey figs, the Black Mission figs, and blond Kadota figs. Around the winter holidays, dried figs are also available.
They are good high-energy snack food for their high sugar content, especially during strenuous exercise.
Many Culinary Uses
The ripe, jam-flavored figs, with sweet juices oozing out of them, are simply the best, just eaten fresh. But, they can be added to salads, added on pizza with mozzarella and arugula, baked with goat cheese, or served with Italian prosciutto as an appetizer. When lightly covered with brandy and roasted, they make the perfect ending to a special dinner. Fresh fig leaves are added to pickling cucumbers and other vegetables, helping them to stay crunchy. Some people are allergic to the white sap of the fig tree. Figs are also very nutritious and full of fiber, calcium, magnesium, potassium, copper, iron, phosphorus, and vitamin B6.
2 lb sugar
1 ½ c orange juice
¾ c lemon juice
Zest of one orange
Hot Sterilized jars and lids
Any type of figs can be used in this quick and easy recipe. Tip the end of the stems, cut figs in quarters, and place all ingredients in a heavy non-reactive pot. Cook for 10-15 minutes until the ripe, juicy fruit starts to break apart. Place them in a canning jar and process them in a hot water bath; freeze them to last the whole winter, or store them in the refrigerator for about ten days.
Chutney is a compote made with fruits and spices that originated from India several centuries ago. It is often sweet and sour due to added sugar, vinegar, or lemons, while slow-cooked for all the ingredients to soften and mellow. The secret ingredient is vinegar which gives this recipe a nice tangy texture, and all the spices highlight the long cooking.
The cooking method is the same as the preserve above; the edition of exotic spices such as cardamom, ginger, anise, allspice, vanilla, and nutmeg is what makes chutney. The flavor intensifies after a couple of days in the refrigerator. Onion can also be added, but experiment and play with your own favorite spices and flavors.
In a large non-reactive pot over high heat, bring all ingredients to boil and simmer for 10 minutes until figs break down into juices and cook together.
Place cooked figs into jars and process them in hot water, freeze them or store them in the refrigerator for several weeks.
Due to warmer weather worldwide in recent years, figs can be grown in a home garden, even in our region. Just pick the right variety, choose a suitable spot that is protected from late spring frost, and read up on how to protect them over the winter. This is our backyard harvest. The fruits are smaller because of the lack of rain this summer and my failing to water them enough.
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Ripe figs: recipes and stories from Turkey, Greece, and Cyprus by Yasmin Khan (Cook) and Matt Russell (Photographer)
Book Call Number: 641.5956 KHAN
Sweeter off the vine: fruit desserts for every season by Yossy Arefi
Book Call Number: 641.64 AREFI
The new book of Middle Eastern food by Claudia Roden
Book Call Number: 641.5956 RODEN