Figs are one of the oldest cultivated fruits around, dating back to at least 5,000 B.C and originating in Asia Minor. Esteemed since ancient times for their aphrodisiac properties. In the past, a man breaking open a fig and eating it in front of his lover was considered a powerfully erotic act. In many cultures figs are still considered a symbol of fertility today. Split in half, they are said to resemble the female genitalia. Left whole, they could resemble part of the male genitalia. Ancients thought the milky-white substance (a natural latex) that drips from the cut stem represented life itself and it was used to combat infertility and support healthy lactation. Cooked figs have been used as sweeteners in lieu of sugar since historical times, and still continue today in North Africa and the Middle East.
The fig tree can live as long as 100 years and grow to 100 feet tall, although domestic trees are kept trimmed to a height of about 15 feet. High in potassium, iron, fiber, plant calcium, Vitamin A, B1, B2, Calcium, iron, Phosphorus, Manganese and Sodium figs are also used for medicinal purposes as a diuretic and laxative.
Types of Figs
Light green or yellowish-green in color with pale pink or dark red flesh. Less sweet as other varieties. Noted for its pronounced flavor, especially when dried, and also eaten fresh.
Medium to large, maroon-brown skin with sweet, juicy pulp. All purpose usage.
Calimyrna (Smyrna grown in California)
Large, green skin with white flesh. Less moist and not as sweet as the Mission. Most popular in its dried form. Having thick skin, they are usually peeled when eaten fresh.
Small to medium, violet skin with extremely sweet, juicy white pulp. Good fresh or dried. A favorite for container gardening.
Medium size, yellowish-green in color, thick-skinned with sweet white to amber-pink pulp. It has only a few small seeds. All purpose usage.
Purplish-black in color with red flesh, full-flavored, moist and chewy texture. Best for eating fresh, but also good dried. They are named for the California Franciscan missions where they have been cultivated since 1770.
Fig, Goat Cheese and Prosciutto Bruschetta
30 pieces of bruschetta
1 1/4c chopped dried Mission figs (about 9 ounces)
1/3c coarsely chopped blood orange sections
1 teaspoon grated blood orange rind
1/3c fresh blood orange juice, about 1 orange
1/4 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
30 (1/2-inch-thick) slices French bread baguette, toasted (about 8 ounces)
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) crumbled goat cheese
5 teaspoons finely chopped walnuts
1 bunch arugula, picked and end of stems trimmed off
½ pound prosciutto, cut into medium irregular sized pieces
Combine first 7 ingredients in a small saucepan; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer until figs are tender, about 8 min. Uncover and cook until mixture thickens, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat; cool to room temperature.
Top each bread slice with 1-2 pieces (depending on size of prosciutto and on personal taste) of prosciutto folded1 1/2 teaspoons fig mixture and 1 1/2 teaspoons goat cheese. Arrange bruschetta on a baking sheet; sprinkle evenly with walnuts. Broil 2 minutes or until nuts begin to brown. Top with arugula and serve warm.
… Or you could just serve fresh Black Mission figs in a cool bowl of water as it is done in Italy and be sure to eat with your fingers!
photos curtesy of Getty images