© Denzil Green
Figs are a soft fruit with edible skin and many small edible seeds inside. In the West, we have mostly known and used them as a dried fruit.
There are many varieties of figs, some better suited to eating fresh, some better suited to drying. The colour varies by variety, ranging from those with a dark, purply black skin to a pale green skin, but there are also yellow ones. The skin is smooth when fresh.
North American-developed varieties include Mission, Brunswick, Brown Turkey and Calimyrna. All these have dark skin, pinkish flesh. Kadota has green skin and mauvish flesh.
Figs need to ripen on the tree and be ripe when harvested. Figs that are going to be dried are allowed to stay on the tree longer, so that more sugar can develop.
Fresh figs bruise easily, so they need to be handled gently. Choose fresh figs that are plump, somewhat firm and brightly coloured.
Figs are related to mulberries.
Figs contain a protease enzyme that breaks down proteins, which gelatin contains, so if you are planning to use fresh figs in a jellied recipe, the fruit must be boiled first to destroy the enzyme or your jellied salad will end up jellied mush.
Good with salty foods.
To use fresh ones, trim off the stem end, wash and eat out of hand. They can also be poached.
Figs are valued for their sugar content, which is up to 55%.
1 pound dried = 450g = 40 medium = 3 cups chopped = 4 cups cooked
1 pound fresh = 450g = 9 medium = 2 1/2 cups chopped
Store fresh refrigerated for up to 2 to 3 days. Store dried figs in a sealed container up to a year.
– © Denzil Green
Figs are native to the Middle East. The fig’s wild ancestor, the “caprifig”, is still found in the Middle East.
They were a very important fruit in the ancient world. For most of history, people in the Middle East used figs as a sweetener, because honey was very expensive and sugar was unknown.
The Egyptians, who began growing figs as early as 4000 BC, considered Phoenician figs a delicacy, though they weren’t quite as fond of them as the Greeks and Romans would be later.
The Greeks and Phoenicians spread them around the Mediterranean, with the Greeks bringing them to Italy. In Rome and Greece, they were a part of ordinary people’s diets.
Figs were brought to California by the Spanish in 1769.