March 3 - 9, 2019: Issue 395
End Of Summer Fruit: Figs
The end of Summer means Figs!
For those lucky enough to have one in their own garden this means simply strolling through the yard before the still warm sun heats up the fruit and picking your fill. For others it is waiting for these sweet soft globes of delight to appear in local stores at prices that aren't prohibitive.
Eating them straight off the tree or just washed from the shop is the best way to enjoy these superlative ancient fruits. For those who want to dress them up a bit more and share with family and friends - a few of our favourite recipes.
Buffalo mozzarella with figs, prosciutto and honey
200g buffalo mozzarella, drained
4 thin slices prosciutto or jamón
2 fresh figs, halved
Honey, to drizzle
Olive oil, to drizzle
Baby herbs, to sprinkle (some torn or shredded fresh basil also works well with these other components)
Arrange the sliced mozzarella, prosciutto and fig on a plate or platter. Drizzle with honey and oil, and sprinkle with herbs.
Catalan-style fig tapas
8 figs, halved
1/4 cup (60ml) olive oil, plus extra to brush
6 thyme sprigs
8 slices woodfired bread
1 garlic clove, halved
4 slices jamon (see note), torn
100g manchego cheese (see note), shaved
Gently coat halved figs with the olive oil, thyme sprigs and a pinch of sea salt. Grill the figs for 2 minutes each side until soft and caramelised. Keep warm.
Brush the bread on both sides with extra oil and grill for 1-2 minutes each side until golden and charred. Rub one side of each slice with the cut side of the garlic clove.
Arrange two fig halves on each slice of chargrilled bread. Top with the jamon and shaved manchego and serve warm.
Other Cheese pairings
Figs' mild acidity pairs well with creamy cheeses like Brie, Boursin, or Camembert while the sweetness offsets the tanginess of goat cheese. Figs' soft texture and honeyed flavor balance firm, sharp cheeses, such as Cheddar, Parmesan, and Asiago.
Grilled Salmon, Fig and Lentil salad with goat's cheese
6 fresh figs, halved
35g (1/4 cup) pecans, chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 teaspoons balsamic glaze
400g can brown lentils, drained
100g mixed salad leaves
50g baby rocket
1/3 cup fresh mint leaves
100g goat's cheese
1 pomegranate, seeds removed
4 salmon Steaks
Panfry your salmon steaks to medium rare and keep warm.
Place halved figs and pecans on a baking tray lined with foil. Toss the garlic, oil and balsamic glaze in a small bowl and stir to combine. Brush or drizzle half the mixture over the figs and pecans. Place under the grill for 3-4 minutes or until the pecans are toasted and the figs are lightly caramelised.
Arrange the lentils, salad leaves, rocket and mint on a serving platter or plates. Top with the grilled figs and pecans. Crumble over the goat’s cheese and scatter with pomegranate seeds. Drizzle with the remaining balsamic mixture.
Ficus carica is an Asian species of flowering plant in the mulberry family, known as the common fig (or just the fig). It is the source of the fruit also called the fig and as such is an important crop in those areas where it is grown commercially. Native to the Middle East and western Asia, it has been sought out and cultivated since ancient times and is now widely grown throughout the world, both for its fruit and as an ornamental plant.
The term fig, first recorded in English in the 13th century, is borrowed from (Old) French figue, itself from Occitan (Provençal) figa, from Romance *fica for Classical Latin ficus "fig, fig-tree". Italian has fico, directly inherited from Latin ficus.
The edible fig is one of the first plants that was cultivated by humans. Nine subfossil figs of a parthenocarpic (and therefore sterile) type dating to about 9400–9200 BC were found in the early Neolithic village Gilgal I (in the Jordan Valley, 13 km north of Jericho). The find precedes the domestication of wheat, barley, and legumes, and may thus be the first known instance of agriculture. It is proposed that this sterile but desirable type was planted and cultivated intentionally, one thousand years before the next crops were domesticated (wheat and rye).
Figs were widespread in ancient Greece, and their cultivation was described by both Aristotle and Theophrastus. Aristotle noted that as in animal sexes, figs have individuals of two kinds, one (the cultivated fig) that bears fruit, and one (the wild caprifig) that assists the other to bear fruit. Further, Aristotle recorded that the fruits of the wild fig contain psenes (fig wasps); these begin life as larvae, and the adult psen splits its "skin" (pupa) and flies out of the fig to find and enter a cultivated fig, saving it from dropping. Theophrastus observed that just as date palms have male and female flowers, and that farmers (from the East) help by scattering "dust" from the male on to the female, and as a male fish releases his milt over the female's eggs, so Greek farmers tie wild figs to cultivated trees. They do not say directly that figs reproduce sexually, however.
Figs were also a common food source for the Romans. Cato the Elder, in his c. 160 BC De Agri Cultura, lists several strains of figs grown at the time he wrote his handbook: the Mariscan, African, Herculanean, Saguntine, and the black Tellanian (De agri cultura, ch. 8). The fruits were used, among other things, to fatten geese for the production of a precursor of foie gras. Rome's first Emperor Augustus was reputed to have been poisoned with figs from his garden smeared with poison by his wife Livia. For this reason, or perhaps because of her horticultural expertise, a variety of fig known as the Liviana was cultivated in Roman gardens.
It was cultivated from Afghanistan to Portugal, also grown in Pithoragarh in the Kumaon hills of India. From the 15th century onwards, it was grown in areas including Northern Europe and the New World. In the 16th century, Cardinal Reginald Pole introduced fig trees to Lambeth Palace in London.
In 1769, Spanish missionaries led by Junipero Serra brought the first figs to California. The Mission variety, which they cultivated, is still popular. The fact that it is parthenocarpic (self-pollinating) made it an ideal cultivar for introduction.
The Kadota cultivar is even older, being mentioned by the Roman naturalist Pliny in the 1st century A.D.
In the Biblical Book of Genesis, Adam and Eve clad themselves with fig leaves (Genesis 3:7) after eating the "forbidden fruit" from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Likewise, fig leaves, or depictions of fig leaves, have long been used to cover the genitals of nude figures in painting and sculpture, for example in Masaccio's The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden.
The Book of Deuteronomy specifies the fig as one of the Seven Species (Deuteronomy 8:7-8), describing the fertility of the land of Canaan. This is a set of seven plants indigenous to the Middle East that together can provide food all year round. The list is organized by date of harvest, with the fig being fourth due to its main crop ripening during summer.
Also in the Bible (Matthew 21:18–22 and Mark 11:12–14, 19–21) is a story of Jesus finding a fig tree when he was hungry; the tree had leaves on it, but no fruit. Jesus then curses the fig tree, which withers.
The biblical quote "each man under his own vine and fig tree" (Micah 4:4) has been used to denote peace and prosperity.
Buddha achieved enlightenment under the bodhi tree, a large and old sacred fig tree (Ficus religiosa, or Pipal).
Sura 95 of the Qur'an is named al-Tīn (Arabic for "The Fig"), as it opens with the oath "By the fig and the olive." The fruit is also mentioned elsewhere in the Qur'an. Within the Hadith, Sahih al-Bukhari records Muhammad stating: "If I had to mention a fruit that descended from paradise, I would say this is it because the paradisiacal fruits do not have pits...eat from these fruits for they prevent hemorrhoids, prevent piles and help gout."
Wikipedia contributors. (2019, February 21). Common fig. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Common_fig&oldid=884456107
Plantae selectae quarum imagines ad exemplaria naturalia Londini, in hortis curiosorum nutrit, vol. 8: t. 73 (1771) [G.D. Ehret]