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VOL. 35 | NO. 20 | Friday, May 20, 2011

Little fruit is more than just a filling for Newtons

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Some of you probably only know figs as something gooey in the middle of a cookie. On the other hand, maybe you only know them by the Christmas song, “Oh bring me some figgy pudding, oh bring me some figgy pudding.”

However, from having a grandmother who had a few fig trees, I know them as a wonderful and flavorful fruit. I also remember that we would be scolded for picking them. That is, if we were caught.

However, she never minded if we picked the leaves and pretended to be Adam and Eve! Ok, well, maybe that’s not so true, but we did love playing around her fig trees.

Let me tell you a little about the fruity fig other than what you know about Fig Newtons cookies.

The Bible abounds with mentions of figs. The first mention was in Genesis 3:7, stating: “And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons. And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.”

Song of Solomon 2:13 states: “The fig tree put forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape a good smell. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.”

And Micah 4:4: “They shall sit every man under his vine, and under his fig tree.”

The fig was a very common, yet important, fruit in Bible times, and Egyptians even considered them to be sacred to the point of including a basket of figs in tombs. In ancient Greece, Plato wrote: “Athletes were to be fed figs to make them stronger.”

Fig culture spread between shores until they finally made their way to Italy and then on to the rest of the European countries. We can thank the Spaniards and Franciscan Monks with baskets full of figs for spreading the popularity of them over to the new Americas.

There are several varieties of figs, as with most fruits:

• The black mission fig, which got its name from the mission fathers who planted it along the California coast, has a black-purplish skin and a beautiful pink flesh. It is often eaten dried.

• The Kadota Fig, the American version of the dattato fig from Italy, has a green skin with amber flesh when ripe. A similar variety is the Peter’s honey fig. These varieties are practically seedless, but birds usually leave them alone because they are green and so they think they are not ripe.

• The Adriatic, which is used mostly to make fig bars, has a bright green skin and a pink-tan flesh.

Another plus: Figs contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are associated with healthy heart and brain function, and lutein, which aids vision. Nutritionists recommend figs for helping to lower blood cholesterol and blood pressure.

There are a numerous amount of other types – including Brunswick, brown Turkey, Marseilles – so you really need to check out the types your market has before you purchase them if you are wanting them for a specific recipe.

For those of you that have never tasted a fig, other than a Fig Newton, let me say, those are NOTHING like a fresh fig. Eating a Fig Newton and thinking you are tasting a fig is like eating a Strawberry Pop-Tart and thinking you are tasting a strawberry. You should give the real thing a taste test, and fortunately, in the South, fig season is almost here. It usually peaks in July, so keep you eye open at the stores and outdoor markets, then try this recipe. It is delicious!

Fresh Figs with Mascarpone and Honey

4 large fresh, ripe figs, halved lengthwise

1/2 cup mascarpone, softened

1/3 cup honey

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/8 teaspoon ground allspice

Arrange the figs cut-side up on four plates. Using the back of a teaspoon gently press into the center of the fig to make a small indentation. Add a spoonful of mascarpone to each center; set plates aside.

Place honey and spices in a small microwavable bowl and zap, until the honey is liquefied and warm. Blend well then drizzle over each fig. Serve immediately.

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