Other names: Beers Black, Franciscan, Mission
Availability: June, August through January.
Handling Tips: 45° F, keep dry.
General Information: The fig might have been the true "forbidden fruit" in the Garden of Eden, but it remains undisputed that the first article of clothing worn by mankind was made of fig leaves. In fact, the fabulous fig has existed since almost the beginning of time. From Attica to Assyria and from Babylonia to Sumer, the fig has survived the fall of some of the greatest empires of the world.
The Mission figs are most popular and commonly found in the peak of the summer growing season. They can appear in varied shades, but a deep violet to black color is most prominent. These black beauties are prized for their fresh, juicy pulp and surgary-sweet, intense flavor.
Nutritional: Not only do figs have phenomenal flavor, but their health benefits make them worth seeking out. Recent medical research reveals that figs have very high levels of the anti oxidant polyphenol, the magic elixir found in green tea. The isoflavones in figs are also the same ones found in tofu and provide the benefits of soy, known for its role in the prevention of certain diseases. Additionally, figs are cholesterol-free, fat-free, and high in car hydrates an natural sugars that can benefit diabetics. Chock full of nutrients, there is nothing bad to be said about figs.
Applications: In addition to providing a healthful source of nutrients, figs have other beneficial uses. A milky-white liquid bleeds out of the stems when they are cut. This fluid is called the fig latex and has antibacterial and anti-parasitic properties. Homeopaths or naturalists can use this latex. In the food service industry, the fig latex is also used for rendering fat and tenderizing meat. In addition, as an ingredient in junket, it helps coagulate cheese as well and is considered a thickening agent for many other foods. Oddly enough, it is this very latex that prevents gelatin from setting when combined with figs.
History: Because of its noted quality as an energy food, the fig "figured" prominently in the diet of the first Greek Olympians. Likewise, the gluttonous Epicureans of the Roman Empire feasted on figs. Shakespeare made numerous references to figs in his works as well. In his play Antony and Cleopatra, Cleopatra is delivered a basket of figs containing an asp, the venomous snake that ultimately causes her death.
Highly valued for their sweet flavor and unusual texture, figs were also one of the first fruits to be dried and stored, an important asset before the days of refrigeration. As people began to travel the world to quest, conquer, and discover, the dried fig provided valuable and practical sustenance. Still today, open-air marketplaces all over the world brim with baskets full of dried figs.
Indigenous to the Mediterranean and Asia Minor territories, the fig tree comes from the Mulberry family and bears the common Latin name, ficus carica. The fig, itself, is actually an inverted flower that develops into a fruit. The flower develops on the inside of a pear-shaped hollow within a small opening at the base called the "eye." The pulp that grows inside holds the seeds encased by fleshy buds.