I recently moved to a new place, a house with a yard, which is a big deal for a city girl. Yes, the house is a bit dilapidated, and the yard, is mostly, well, dead, BUT it does contain several fruit trees. Since my dad grew up on a farm, I'm doing my best to bring the trees back from the brink, especially the fig trees, since they were his favorite. And since I'd never actually eaten a fig before (I know), I decided to do a little research to see what the common fig could do for me.
Figs have a history that just may predate that of man, and they've been dietary and medicinal staples for thousands of years. Their usage was first recorded in Sumer around 2500 B.C., and the oldest living plant is a sacred fig tree - said to be a direct descendent of the Bodhi Tree under which Siddhartha achieved enlightenment. The founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus were suckled by the she-wolf under a fig tree, which later became sacred to Romans, and in the original Olympic games, Greek athletes were crowned with fig wreaths, sacred to Dionysus. Some say that the Garden of Eden's forbidden fruit was not an apple, but a fig. For centuries, the fig has endured as a symbol of abundance, fertility and sweetness.
Here's what I didn't know: figs contain no fat, sodium or cholesterol, and they provide more fiber than any other common fruit or vegetable. One quarter-cup serving of dried figs contains 5 grams of fiber, which is 20% of the RDA. Not only that, figs are a good source of iron, calcium, potassium, manganese, and have a high quantity of antioxidants. Figs are also useful as a coffee substitute, laxative, digestion aid, and are thought to be helpful in the quest to quit smoking. They contain proteolytic enzymes, natural humectants and Psoralen, used for years to treat skin pigmentation diseases. And in addition to covering a multitude of private parts, fig leaves have anti-diabetic properties, lower triglyceride levels, and inhibit the growth of certain types of cancer cells.
So what are you waiting for? Go eat some figs!
Ah - yes, here are some tips for procuring and eating figs. You can go dried (dried figs stay fresh for several months), but why not go fresh? California figs are available from June to September. You can store them in the refrigerator, but it's better to eat them right away, since they're delicate and will only last a few days. Before eating or cooking figs, wash in cool water, gently remove stem and wipe dry. Here are few suggestions:
- Put figs on top of your oatmeal.
- Poach figs in red wine, drizzle with honey, serve with Greek yogurt.
- Stuff figs with goat cheese, wrap in prosciutto and grill.
- Fennel, endive, pine nuts, figs and Parmesan make a great salad.