I would have never known this, but apparently figs are a member of the mulberry family. No wonder I love them so much – mulberries are one of my favourite fruits. Although considered a fruit, the fig is actually a flower that is inverted into itself. The seeds are drupes or the real fruit.
Fresh figs are luscious and seduce the palate. Well, they certainly seduce mine with their sweet, gooey, sticky flesh and all those little crunchy seeds that give the fig its wonderful texture. I just love how they pop when you bite into them. I love them raw, preserved, lightly baked, and also served with cheese – blue, brie, camembert and chevin, to name but a few.
While I was filming my Food Network TV series ‘Jenny Morris Cooks Morocco’, I learnt from the locals that dried figs have almost as much calcium as an egg, and this could be good news if you are lactose intolerant. Use figs to replace milk – the dried ones last for ages.
Not only are they nutritious, they have been used as a natural laxative for ages and ages. The sap from the fig can also be used to curdle milk and make a sort of primitive cheese – I think I will experiment with that, since I have two fig trees in my garden.
While I was filming my new TV series, ‘Jenny Morris Cooks The Rivera’, in Italy I was surrounded by figs – trees dripping and groaning under the weight of the ripe fragrant fruit, and in some cases semi dried figs still on the tree. Oh my word how delicious and sweet they were! The locals told me that figs are harvested according to nature’s clock, fully ripened and even partially dried on the tree and then left to dry in the sun to preserve them for the winter months. Dried figs, I was also told, are wonderful concentrated source of minerals and vitamins.
Dried figs contain minerals like calcium, copper, potassium, manganese, iron, selenium and zinc. 100g of dried figs contain 680 mg of potassium, 162 mg of calcium, and 2.03 mg of iron. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps controlling heart rate and blood pressure. Copper is required in the production of red blood cells. Iron is required for red blood cell formation as well for cellular oxidation.
Figs are adored and revered in the Mediterranean. The tree is seen as a symbol of abundance, fertility and sweetness.
There is an old English proverb that goes something like this: “Peel a fig for a friend and a peach for your enemy.” Is it because figs have been traditionally linked to fertility? But then the downside is that they have also been ‘accused’ of increasing sweat and encouraging lice.
The way a fig is pollinated is very interesting. A special wasp takes up residence inside the fig. Figs contain an enzyme called ficin, which breaks down and essentially digests the wasp, making it a part of the fruit. Isn’t nature just wonderful and amazing?
Fig trees do not flower; rather the “fruit” that we eat is the blossom. Well, long may they blossom. I just can’t get enough of this biblical fruit. They are even spoken of in the Bible in the first book of Genesis. It is said that Isaiah used them to treat skin problems. It must be the chemical found in figs, Psoralen, which has been used for thousands of years to treat skin pigmentation diseases. Psoralen, which occurs naturally in figs, some other plants and fungi, is a skin sensitizer that promotes tanning in the sun.
Even the leaves have their uses – they make great G-strings and jock straps.
The moral of this story is you can never eat enough figs. We should be stocking up on dried figs right now and continue to include them in our daily diet when the season has left us. I certainly plan to do so.