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09/23/2006: "FIGS"

name of author: Raul

Many of today's popular foods, including olive oil, beans, grain to name a few, figs are believed to be one of the first fruits to be dried and stored by mankind. Fresh figs are still produced in great quantities all along the Mediterranean and is the largest fig producer in the world. Fig trees are native to The Mediterranean area, although they may be found more extensively from Asiatic Turkey to northern India. Their ability to store easily by drying made them, along with various grains and raisins, a dependable long-term food source. The same can just as truly be said about them today.Today, they are also found growing on a commercial basis in numerous other countries around the world. They are also often grown as large decorative potted trees in greenhouses or "sun rooms" in cold climates. In keeping with their curious reproduction scheme (Figs blossom inside themselves), figs are the only fruit which fully matures, then partially dries, before falling from its tree a perfectly ripe piece of fruit.


There are literally hundreds of fig varieties. Each year, fresh figs are harvested in late summer and early fall. The fig plant is cultivated as a bush from 1 meter (3 feet) tall, to large trees over 10 meters (33 feet) tall. Their wide, coarse deciduous leaves are easily identified. The sweet fruit develops above the points of shed leaves, or in the axil of leaves of the current year, with one or two figs set together. Depending upon local temperature and rainfall, there may be one or two crops harvested per year.They are available all year long, however, because most of them are dried and conveniently packaged.

Figs come with a lofty history dating back to 2900 B.C. They were highly esteemed during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. They were held sacred in all the countries of Southwestern Asia, also in Egypt, Greece, and Italy. Symbolically, figs stood for abundance, unity, true understanding, knowledge, fertility and faith. The Bible prophets Micah and Isaiah described "sitting under one�s own grapevine and fig tree" the perfect symbol of peace and contentedness in ideal times. The Greeks insisted figs were "more precious than gold." Fig wreaths crowned the heads of Olympic athletes in times of victory. They were Cleopatra�s favourite fruit, and the prophet Mohammed probably said it best. "If I should wish a fruit brought with me to Paradise, it would be the fig."

Figs in Muslim Spain: Although figs may not have had the economic importance of olives, they afford an excellent example of the intensification of agriculture in Islamic Spain, manifest in the dazzling variety of the fruit available to consumers.

In the tenth-century Calendar of Cordoba, the Latin ficus (fig) translated the Arabic shajar "trees" (the specific word for fig is teen), indicating that the fig was so numerous that it became, by antonomasia, the tree.

From the standpoint of production for the export market, Malaga was the most important fig center, the city being surrounded on all sides by figs of the Rayyo (rayy�, also referred to as m�laqi, Malagan) variety, "which is the best class of figs and the largest, with the most delicious pulp and the sweetest taste." Malagan figs were exported by Muslim and Christian traders and sold in Baghdad (according to al-Shaqundi) and as far away as India and China, where they were valued for their taste and their ability to preserve it over the full year's travel occupied in their transport.

In the Sierra Morena a wide variety of figs were grown, including the q�tiya (Gothic), sha'ar� (hairy), and do�egal. The fig was also of interest to the agronomists: al-Hij�ri reported that in the Garden of the Noria in Toledo there was grown a kind of fig tree whose fruit was half green and half white. (Quoted from T. Glick, Islamic and Christian Spain in the early Middle Ages; Princeton Uni. Press, New Jersey, 1979; pp. 79-80)

In addition to popularity for their taste, figs were also used medicinally. The prophet, Isaiah, mentions them as a treatment for boils, and helpful for those suffering from sleeplessness and stomach ache. Before 100 A.D., the wise Roman naturalist, Pliny, the Elder, wrote that figs preserved the elderly with better health and less wrinkles. A chemical found in figs, Psoralens, has been used for thousands of years to treat skin pigmentation diseases. The high alkalinity in figs is also considered by some to be beneficial to persons wishing to quit smoking. All figs provide more soluble and insoluble fiber than any other common fruit or vegetable. Figs have nutrients especially important for today's lifestyles. A quarter-cup serving adds 6% of iron, 6% of calcium, and 7% of the Daily Value for potassium. They contain no fat, no sodium or cholesterol. Recent research has shown that figs also have a high quantity of polyphenol antioxidants.

Although many factors affect the development of cancer, heart disease, and high blood pressure, eating a diet low in fat and sodium and rich in fruits and vegetables, including dried figs that contain fiber may lower blood cholesterol levels and may reduce the risk of these diseases. Dried figs are low in fat and very low in sodium. They contain no saturated fat or cholesterol and are a good source of fiber.

Black Mission figs are the best-known variety grown in California. Despite the name it is more of a deep purple than black, with a pear or teardrop shape. Inside, the Black Mission fig has a crimson flesh loaded with tiny, edible seeds. The Mission fig (pictured above) has a purple-black skin with pinkish flesh. It is delicous plain or in recipes.

Kadota fig is rounder with a firmer, thicker, yellow-green skin and a pale interior that has a reddish-brown center. The Kadota fig is thick-skinned and has a creamy amber color when ripe. Practically seedless, this fig is a favorite for canning, preserving and drying.

Brown Turkey figs have a brownish-purple skin and rich red flesh.

Brunswick is a large dark brown fig with a mild flavor.

Celeste is violet skinned, and has a rose-colored, tasty flesh.

Calimyrna figs are one of the larger varieties that become a pale yellow color when fully ripe. The popular Calimyrna fig is noted for its delicious nut-like taste and tender, golden skin.The figs amber flesh drips with syrupy juice from the bottom or stem end of the fruit, when totally ripe. They have a sweet, slightly nutty flavor but are rarely seen fresh, particularly outside of California, because they are so perishable.

Selection & Storage: It is important to handle figs carefully because they are extremely fragile and can bruise easily. Select plump, fragrant figs that have a little give when touched. Avoid those that are hard, mushy, or show signs of mold. Also avoid figs that are dry or have splits on their skins. Occasionally figs will have some scarring as a result of the fruit brushing against the leaves of the tree, however this does not damage the quality of the fruit. Figs that are not fully ripe when purchased can be ripened on the counter at room temperature. Ripe figs are quite perishable and should be used as soon as possible. To prevent bruising, place figs in a single layer on a plate lined with paper towels and cover with plastic wrap. They can be refrigerated for up to three days. Figs can also be frozen for up to six months.

One of the best ways to eat figs is fresh out of hand, skin and all, after thoroughly washing them. Figs are also popular wrapped in prosciutto, eaten as a first course or an hors d' oeuvre. Another great hors d' oeuvre is to stuff figs with nuts or mascarpone, the luxurious Italian sweetened cream cheese. Figs can also be wrapped in thin sheets of pancetta, the Italian unsmoked bacon, cooked until the bacon just crisps and served as you would raw figs and prosciutto.

Figs take well to poaching or stewing, by themselves, with summer fruits, or with dried fruits. They also bake well. It is recommended that you bake them just until they soften which will concentrate their sugars even further. Although it's not well known, fresh figs, like fresh pineapple, contain enzymes that prevent gelatin from setting and, therefore, are not recommended in gelatin based desserts-a wonderful recipe is Basmati Rice with Figs, Mustard Seeds, and Ginger.

Figs are mentioned from beginning to end throughout The Bible, all the way from the Seven Days Of Creation in Genesis, to Revelation. They were in the Garden of Eden at the time of The Creation Of Adam And Eve, and the birth of Cain And Abel, and they are used as a symbol in end-time Prophecy. Virtually everyone in the Bible ate, or at least was familiar with, figs. Figs are used to symbolize a great end-time meteor storm that will occur as part of the prophesied Signs In The Heavens-"The sun
turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars (i.e. meteorites] in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind." (Revelation 6:12-13 - (Among else) � Copyright, 2001, Marty Martindale, Largo Florida,USA


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