Common Fig/Le Figuier
Taking my dog for his daily walks, I pass five wild fig trees, all of them fruiting at the moment. I press the fruits to see if they are ripe and eat them as I go along my walk. The figs from the five trees all taste differently; from the outside there is no difference, but from the inside the fruits vary in colour.
The Fig tree is native to the Middle East. From there it was introduced all over the Mediterranean and eastwards as far as Afghanistan. By the 15th century it had arrived in northern Europe and the New World.
It is a deciduous tree to 10m tall. The leaves are large, rough and palmately lobed. The flowers are tiny, borne inside a small, green structure called ‘syncap’. This ‘syncap’ has a tiny opening to the outside for pollinating wasps to enter. The fruit (fig) is fleshy, pear-shaped, 3-7cm long and comes in a colour range from green to purple.
It belongs to the Mulberry Family, Moraceae. The cultivated form has no male flowers and the fruit ripens without fertilization (parthenocarpically). The wild species bear male and female flowers. Some varieties crop twice a year, some only once. Figs like to grow near water. It has been an important food source since biblical times. It was a major crop in ancient Greece, when there were already 29 cultivars. The name ‘carica’ is derived from ‘Caria’ in Asia Minor which in Pliny’s time (AD23 – AD79) produced the best figs.
The fruit is important as food as well as medicinally. It is a laxative herb that soothes damaged tissue. It contains flavonoides (help against infection and free radicals), sugars, vitamins A & C, acids and enzymes.
Figs in late summer are so plentiful, a bumper crop, in fact, and about the easiest thing to do is to just freeze them. Isabel, our fellow forager, does this every year. They do become soft but the freezing does not impair their taste. There are numerous recipes for figs. The following recipes are very easy to make and quite delicious
Figs, Prosciutto and Gorgonzola
Ingredients: 10 fresh figs; prosciutto; Gorgonzola or chèvre; 1 cup of Basmati rice.
Rice: Soak rice for at least 15 mins, drain and put in bowl. Pour boiling water over, stir for a few minutes, drain well. In pan with tight-fitting lid put 1 T of oil, 1 sliced garlic clove, 4 cardamom pods, stock cube with herbs (optional), salt. Add drained rice and a little over 1 cup of water and boil rapidly for 1 min. Reduce heat to minimum and leave to simmer until all the water is absorbed. Remove from heat, place absorbent cloth over the pot and then the lid. Leave to sit.
Preheat the oven to 180 C. Wash the figs and make an incision down half-way in each fig. Cut small strips of prosciutto and wrap a strip around each fig, pinning it with a cocktail stick. Then insert a piece of Gorgonzola into the incision. Place the figs upright on an oven baking tray and bake for about 7-8 mins. Serve figs on rice, with a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar (optional) and a mixed green salad.
Baked Fresh Figs with Cointreau
Ingredients: 8 fresh figs; 30 g castor sugar; 2 tablespoons Cointreau.
Preheat the oven to 180 C. Wash the figs and while still damp, roll them in the sugar. Place in a baking dish large enough to hold the figs in a single layer. They should fit snugly into the dish. Add 1 cm of water to the the baking dish and drizzle the figs with Cointreau. Bake for 15 minutes, until the sugar is lightly browned. Serve warm with the juice.
Home-made Fig Jam
Ingredients: 1 kg of fresh figs; 500 g of castor sugar; rind of 1 lemon in one piece; juice of 1 lemon.
Put all ingredients in a bowl and leave overnight. The next day transfer it all to a pan and over a low heat stir and dissolve the sugar. Bring to the boil, then cook over low heat, stirring regularly, for about 45 minutes or until the jam is thick and sticky. Remove the lemon rind. Mash the figs till they break up. Cool slightly and put them into sterilised jars. The jam will keep for 3 months.
Fig and Pear Parkin
100g oats (lightly whizz in a blender); 200g self-raising flour; 1tsp ground ginger; 1tsp bicarbonate of soda; 100g slightly salted butter. 3 small, ripe pears cored and thinly sliced; 4 fresh figs, thinly sliced into crescents; 150g golden syrup (3-4 tbsp); 150g black treacle (3-4 tbsp); 3 pieces Chinese stem ginger, chopped; 50 ml milk; 1 beaten egg; crème fraîche to serve.
Preheat the oven to 170°C. Grease and line a 28 x 24cm shallow baking tin. Then grease the paper. In a bowl mix the flour, oats, ground ginger and bicarbonate of soda. Stir in half of the fresh sliced fruit. In a pan slowly heat the butter, syrup, treacle & stem ginger just until the butter melts, don’t let it boil. Take it off the heat. Stir the milk into the pan, followed quickly by the egg. Pour the mixture into the bowl of flour, and stir. Scatter the remaining fresh fruit on the top of the parkin and bake for 40-45 minutes until the centre feels firm to the touch. Serve warm or cold with crème fraîche.
Fig leaves make an excellent wrapping for fish and keep it succulent and full of flavour. Mackerel cooked whole benefit from being wrapped as does salmon:
Salmon Steak in Fig Leaves
Rub salt on to all sides of the salmon. Using 2 leaves for each steak, briefly dunk them in very hot water to make them wrap more easily. Then place them one on top of the other facing in the same direction, sliding one forward to minimize the gaps. Sprinkle with a little olive oil and sprigs of tarragon. Place the fish on top, skin uppermost, sprinkle with pastis or lemon juice. Fold the edges of the leaves over the fish. Take some very fine string, enough to lay down the length of the fish and then to turn back and bind around the fish so that it can be tied to the other end. Place each steak on a ridged baking pan, not touching. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 180⁰ for 15 mins for a medium-sized salmon steak. Place on warmed plates and snip the string. A hollandaise sauce or äioli go well with this dish, as do sautèed red and yellow peppers and a green salad.
Bibliography: Herbs and Herbalism– Malcolm Stuart; 80 fleurs des iles et du littoral varois – Libris; The Royal Horticultural Society Encyclopedia of Herbs and Herbalism – Deni Bown; A Mediterranean Harvest – Paola Scaravelli & Jon Cohen.