Late summer and fall brings us one of the most ancient and gorgeous fruits: ficus carica, also known as the fig. For me the fig is a symbolically poetic fruit, from its ability to perish so quickly, to its succulent and colorful appearance. As a child my father and uncles all had fig trees in their gardens and every year their bounty would be well awaited.
Just before the chill of winter would set in we would all chip in to preen and wrap these huge trees in black garbage bags and tie them up with ropes. The tree is a mild climate fruit, known to the Mediterranean and now California, but to the Italian Americans in New Jersey, their climate restrictions were not going to stop them from growing their figs.
I eat them every chance I get because I know soon their season will end--that is part of the lure they have over me. In Positano, on the Amalfi Coast, I had my most pristine fig. It was large and plump and when opened, exploded with gorgeous shades of red and delicious, edible seeds. As with all my food obsessions, I seek more reasons to eat them--so I do research on the nutritional benefits of figs to justify my craze.
Greeks and Romans have always known the benefits of this fruit and made it part of their diet. The fruit is full of iron, potassium, beta carotene and magnesium. It has been said that the nutrients in figs are comparable to breast milk. A phytochemical called ficin found in figs promotes the breakdown of proteins and also aids in liver health. I found that they are packed with both soluble and insoluble fiber and have been known for centuries to relieve constipation, aid in digestion and help with anemia. Recent studies also indicate that a compound found in figs can help fight cancer cell growth.This special fruit has tons of nutritive qualities and are absolutely delicious.
How to Eat Figs
When you do get your hands on figs from Black Mission, Calimyrna in California (which have yellow skins) or Smyrna, you have many ways to add them to your diet.
Bake figs in a 425 degree oven for 15 minutes, and use as toppings on ricotta cheese
Cut them up and drizzle some balsamic vinegar to make a crostini (Check out my picks for balsamic vinegars!)
Wrap figs in Prosciutto with goat cheese
Braise with figs in various meat dishes
Fig Salsa to accompany steak or pork
Grill to add to an arugula pizza with shaved parmigiano
Take the opportunity to enjoy these mythic fruits before they are all gone. September is when you will find them everywhere, but they are appearing now as well. Store them in a cool place, but eat right away and do not store them for more than two days, because they deteriorate quickly. Eat them skin and all or peel if you prefer. Eat up!
My Sister Antonete's Fig Jam Recipe
(Used with Figs off of our Childhood Fig Tree)
Wash and dry jars
Wash and dry ripe figs (do not remove skin for added fiber but do cut off stem and bottom)
Chop figs, mix with remaining ingredients into a saucepan and bring to boil for 15 minutes.
Save half sugar to add after full boil and then bring back to full boil and skim off any foam in pan.
Allow to stand for 5 minutes and stir completely.
Put in jars and cover with lid, add jars to two inches of water in a pan and boil for 5 minutes and Voila done!
Honey: Using honey is a matter of taste. If you are not sure of your preference, I would suggest starting off with 1/4 cup and 3/4 cup sugar and taking it forward from there. Though you can use all honey, our taste defines that 1/2 cup is the perfect balance before it overpowers the taste of figs (and anything else we might add to it).
Honey has a strong flavor and tends to take over both aroma and taste. Hence I stick to 1/2 cup. But you can use any other sweetener you like or go the traditional route and use all sugar instead. Honey and Sugar have almost same shelf life, but since this uses less sugar than traditional jams, consume it within 10-15 days.
Ginger: You can also use 1/4 cup of chopped ginger instead of the ground ginger.
Closest to nutrients in breast milk! Choose ripened figs for most antioxidants and figs are highest in fiber, potassium and vitamin B6.