“No greater thing is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer you that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.”
~From The Works of the Greek philosopher Epictetus
The fig is a man-whore.
Well, not all figs, actually. There are some figs (like some men), capable of productive, fruitful relationships.
The ‘Caprifig’ however, is not one of them. Its claim to fame is that it is the only type of fig to have flowers which possess male parts and therefore produce pollen. This pollen is critical to the fertilization of more than one type of fig. Caprifigs are often described as “small, hard, inedible and unappealing” (no big surprise there).
Commercial growers purchase Caprifigs and the orchard-worthy specimens are pimped out to pollinate other types of figs.
So basically, the Caprifig lives for sex.
The whole process is referred to as ‘caprification’ and depends exclusively on a ‘fig-wasp’ which inhabits the Caprifig, and is responsible for transferring pollen and laying eggs.
There are other, more common varieties of figs like the Mission fig, which develop without pollination. Introduced to California by Franciscan missionaries, these are popular with home growers and consumers for their dependability and flavor.
None however, can match the flavor or girth of the coveted Smyrna fig, said to have larger, more flavorful seeds as a direct result of pollination (apparently, the rewards are even greater for a ficus completely dependent on Capri’s man-fig, living the life of a
sex addict making frequent, if not meaningful, fruity-calls).
Allow me to free myself from the accusal of man-bashing.
Quite honestly, I can think of a married woman or two
who flirtatiously express interest in peeking under someone else’s
fig leaf, when they need not look beyond their own backyard for a perfectly good Ficus.
But as is often the case, nature presents us with what seems to be a cruel injustice. “Wham, bam, thank you M’am” is as much of a reality to the plant kingdom as it is to the animal kingdom.
It is what it is.
The fact remains however, for all its flaws and infidelities, I love the fig nonetheless. I can’t think of a more succulent, satisfying orb worthy of prosciutto’s salty embrace. And although fresh is first choice, there are few fruits to compete with the nutrition, portability and flavor of a dried fig.
My relationship with figs is not a complicated one.
Where propagation is concerned, at first I didn’t succeed
and so, I never tried again.
When my significant-other planted our first and only fig tree, we knew not of caprification or the need for a fig wasp and so,
our poor little tree likely met its demise well before it was
burlapped for the winter.
I suppose it was a blessing of sorts because years later, I heard tell of an elderly relative who, with little time left, waited for her promising backyard-harvest to ripen. To her delight, an early sunrise revealed a fig tree bursting with ripened fruit. By midday however, backyard birds had rendered her beloved ficus devoid of even one single, edible fruit.
Fellow fig-lovers have reported that occasionally, even when all criteria are met (good drainage, plenty of sunlight, protection from the elements), their once-abundant fig trees will mysteriously remain fruitless for a season or two and then begin bearing fruit years later, as though production had never halted.
These seemingly cruel acts of nature have been experienced countless times by fig fans across the globe, and one would wonder if there is a greater lesson to be learned here.
As I pause to consider the significance of such a fickle fruit, I am drawn to writers and philosophers of the (recent and not-so-recent) past, who so eloquently made reference to the fig.
As art so often reflects life, it is evident that the fig metaphorically describes life’s fleeting opportunities for love.
Where the fig-grower is concerned, care and cultivation are secondary only to good timing.
Where romance is concerned, be it new romance or old, I would suggest that care, cultivation, and good timing hold equal billing in a successful relationship.
If we fail to recognize life’s abundance, leaving the fruits of our labor vulnerable to waiting wings, we may find ourselves faced with insatiable hunger beside a fruitless tree.
Perhaps Sylvia Plath said it best:
“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”
~Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar, Chapter 7
And although no fig tree stands in my yard these days, my desire
to procure such a delicate, complex fruit is unwavering.
I remain mindful however that the temptation of Smyrna’s succulence and heft will be short lived. As I await the unpredictability of fresh-fig season, I recognize the value and dependability of the more humble, common, dried fig.
Where fresh, young figs offer spontaneity and excitement, it is the more mature, dried variety which offers consistent flavor, unconditional reliability and longevity.
But alas, do not mistake the fig for a fool.
While the commoner patiently lurks behind darkened cupboards
and pantry doors awaiting the opportunity to satisfy,
the foolish sins of neglect are often repaid with spoiled sweetness.
And so, in matters of figs and life it is essential that we acknowledge and celebrate what lies beneath the leaf.
Should we fail to nurture our own fruitful harvest in a timely fashion, we risk a quick descent by waiting wings to make light work
of stolen figs.
And, speaking of stolen figs…
I leave you with a recommendation for a great book and my
most recent read:
Stolen Figs by Mark Rotella.
For those, like me, who pine for Italy and fresh figs with equal measure, this book offers a charming account of Calabria and its people (with a short chapter suggesting a not-so-legal method of procuring figs).
I am also happy to share with you some interesting fig facts
and a favorite fig recipe below.
But perhaps most appropriately, I will make my exit with a
borrowed mom-ism from my mother and friend who taught me
first, to appreciate what stands in my own backyard and
secondly, to appreciate a good play on words (no matter how corny);
I’ve gotta run.
I have a date
With a fig
On Prune Street.
Until next time,
Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food
In case you give a fig:
Of the three members of the Moraceae family, the fig has spread most widely. It was first recorded in the tablets of Lagash in Sumer (2738-2371) BC and has since appeared in the recorded history from Egypt to Greece, where it was a staple food of both rich and poor. The fig was such a staple food that Egyptian armies are recorded as having cut down the figs and vines of their enemies, and whole baskets of figs have been discovered among the tomb offerings of dynastic kings.
The Egyptians, being preoccupied with their digestion, had a habit of fasting. The fig, having mild laxative properties, appealed to them as food which was delicious as well as good for them. Figs are rich in calcium, iron, phosphorus and potassium. Vitamin C and the B group vitamins are also present in small quantities. They are also high in fibre. Figs have the highest overall mineral content of all common fruits. A 40 gram (1/4 cup) serving provides 244 mg of potassium (7% of the DV), 53 mg of calcium (6% of the DV) and 1.2 mg of iron (6% of the DV). Figs are fat-free, sodium-free and cholesterol-free.
Homer wrote of figs when he described the orchard of Alcinous, visited by Ulysses, which featured figs, olives, pomegranates, apples and pears. The poet Alexis of Thuria in the 4th century celebrated the fare of the average Greek which included "that God-given inheritance of our mother country, darling of my heart, a dried fig."
Cleopatra ended her life with an asp brought to her in a basket of figs.
The fig’s importance in Hellenic culture and economic life is second only that that of the grape and the olive.
In the first half of the sixteenth century, the fig was brought to England by Cardinal Pole, a few years before Cortez introduced the tree to Mexico. Fig trees reached North America in about 1790.
~From The Sensuous Fig by Margaret E.Walker
For centuries, writers have made reference to the fig, noting its connection to fertility.
In Greek and Roman mythology, figs are sometimes associated with Dionysus, god of wine and drunkenness, and with Priapus, a satyr who symbolized sexual desire.
Caramelized Figs with Mascarpone Cheese
Fichi Caramellati al Mascarpone
From Kyle Phillips
Late summer is the season for rich, ripe honey-sweet figs, and though you may be tempted to eat them directly off the tree, this is a pleasant, quick way to serve them up when friends come calling. To serve 4:
• 8 perfect, perfectly ripe figs
• 8 tablespoons cane sugar
• 2/3 pound (300 g) Mascarpone cheese
• 1/2 cup (50 g) powdered sugar
• 8 tablespoons vinsanto or passito wine -- both are sweet dessert wines
Select 8 ripe, blemish-free figs. Wash them, pat them dry, and make two perpendicular cuts half way into each fig from the stem end, as if you were going to quarter them. Put them on a cookie sheet covered with oiled paper.
Sprinkle a teaspoon of cane sugar over each fig and run them under a broiler for 2-3 minutes, to lightly caramelize the sugar.
Arrange the figs on 4 plates, and continue the cuts almost all the way down to the base, so the figs open like so many flowers.
Beat 2/3 pound (300 g) mascarpone cheese (a soft, mild-flavored cream cheese will work in its stead if need be) with about 1/2 cup (50 g) powdered sugar and 8 tablespoons vinsanto or passito (both are sweet, white dessert wines). Divvy the cheese among the figs and serve.