Figs have an interesting history. They thrive in California, and many Californians (and some people in other states) are lucky to have backyard fig trees. Figs are also very popular with raw food enthusiasts and at Farmer’s Markets, because shipping the delicate fruits can be difficult, but they can be easily be picked in the morning and sold the very same day.
Growing up in California, Cherie loved figs fresh off the tree:
“When I was growing up in Santa Barbara, we had a fruit orchard, which included a couple of fig trees. I anxiously waited for summer when figs would ripen on the trees and I could stand in the garden, pick ripe figs and eat them right there. They never made it to the kitchen; I couldn’t imagine using them in a recipe – how could they be improved? When ripe, they are sweet and creamy, with tiny seeds that pop in your mouth. Later, I discovered that you could pair fresh ripe Mission figs with chevre, a soft raw goat cheese. When I began to develop nut cheeses, it made sense replace the chevre with soft nut cheeses. Although I no longer have fig trees in my yard, I look forward to fig season and during the season I buy a case or two of fresh figs at the farmers market and fill myself with them and memories of my childhood. “
Enjoy Cherie's recipe: Apricot and Nut Cheese Stuffed Figs with Red Wine Glaze here.
12 FUN facts about FIGS – How many do you already know?
1. Figs are considered to be the first cultivated crop, and their prevalence dates all the way back to prehistoric times.
2. Figs have two main harvest times, first in June (right now!), followed by a second, larger harvest later in the summer and fall. The second fig harvest is often at its height in September, but some varieties may be available into November.
3. What we call the fruit is actually inverted clusters of tiny flowers. The actual fruit is what most of us call the seeds.
4. Many fig varieties do not require pollination, but in the wild, some are pollinated by fig wasps, which hatch inside of figs.
5. Figs thrive in hot, dry climates, like the Mediterranean. Turkey tops world production, followed by Egypt, Iran, Greece, Algeria and Morocco.
6. Franciscan monks of Mission San Diego brought figs to California from the Mediterranean in the middle of the 18th century. Figs were planted in all the missions along the Camino Real, hence the name Black Mission figs!
7. It took 100 years for California to develop its fig industry, and today, the state is the top producer of figs (98% of U.S. crops).
8. Figs are low in calories and contain soluble dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals.
9. Fresh figs, especially black mission figs, are high in phytonutrients and antioxidants such as carotenes, lutein, tannins, and chlorogenic acid among others and anti-oxidant vitamins such as vitamin A, E, and K. Together, these phyto-chemical compounds in figs help scavenge harmful oxygen-derived free radicals from the body, thereby protecting us from cancers, diabetes, degenerative diseases, and infections.
10. Research studies suggest that chlorogenic acid in figs helps lower blood sugar levels and control blood-glucose levels in type-II diabetes mellitus (adult onset) diabetes.
11. Fresh, as well as dried figs contain good levels of the B-complex group of vitamins like niacin, pyridoxine, folates, and pantothenic acid. These vitamins function as co-factors for metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
12. Dried figs are an excellent source of minerals like calcium, copper, potassium, manganese, iron, selenium and zinc – all important for healthy red blood cell formation, as well for cellular oxidation.
To illustrate the longevity of the illustrious fig (and how it can contribute to your longevity!), here’s a quote from the naturalist Pliny the Elder (AD 23 – August 25, AD 79). He touted the virtues of figs with more than one hundred “observations”, including this one:
“This fruit invigorates the young, improves the health of the aged, and retards the formation of wrinkles.”
Sounds like a miracle fruit! We can’t end this post without a link to a beautiful PDF with nutrition info about figs from Dr. Karin Dina, who, with husband Dr. Rick Dina, developed and teaches our Science of Raw Food Nutrition courses at Living Light Culinary Institute. Enjoy fresh figs for this long summer and fall season!