Thursday, November 10, 2011

Culinary IQ: Thursday, November 10, 2011; Figs

The Fruit or the Leaf?

Sweet, savory, fresh or dried, sliced, diced, baked, puréed or sautéed - there are a lot of ways to enjoy simply beautiful, simply delicious figs. Although considered a fruit, the fig is actually a flower that is inverted into itself. The seeds are drupes or the real fruit. Figs can be used in everything from appetizers to main dishes to desserts.

One of the oldest cultivated foods there are many interesting pieces of information about the fig, here are a few:

  • The common fig probably originated in the fertile part of southern Arabia and ancient records show that the Sumerians and Assyrians were familiar with it.
  • Figs were first introduced into the New World by Spanish and Portuguese missionaries, most notably to the West Indies in 1520 and to Peru in 1528.
  • They were imported from the West Indies to Spanish missions in Mexico and subsequently spread to California with the Franciscan missionaries who planted them in the mission gardens at San Diego in 1769 and up the Pacific coast to Santa Clara by 1792, Ventura by 1793, and later on to Sonoma, giving the name Mission to those first dark purple California figs.
  • The fig tree is the symbol of abundance, fertility, and sweetness.
  • Figs made their first commercial product appearance in the 1892 introduction of Fig Newtons® Cookies.
  • And, because of its high alkalinity it has been mentioned as being beneficial to persons wishing to quit smoking.
  • Fig trees usually bare fruit twice in one season, once in the spring and again in late fall.
These are the facts about figs that I found most interesting. You can find many more facts about figs from the California Fig Advisory Board.

I love figs, I love them in Fig Newtons and I love to cook with them. I recently made a delicious orange-fig marmalade with them. One of my favorite things to make with figs is this simple appetizer:

Grilled Figs on Crusty Bread with Mascarpone and Honey

10-12 ripe black figs
1 loaf crusty baguette, sliced in 20 slices and toasted
Mascarpone cheese

Slice figs in half lengthwise and grill cut side down until caramelized. Spread each slice of toasted bread with a dollop mascarpone. Place a half of fig on each piece with grilled side up and drizzle with honey. Serve.

This is quick, simple and the perfect appetizer for that backyard barbecue. You can also put the prepared ingredients on a tray and let your guests make their own.

Fig trees are easy to grow, every yard should have one for the delicious fruit. I hear the leaves also make good clothing when you find yourself in a pinch!

Source: The California Fig Advisory Board

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