The fig originated in Central Asia but quickly spread throughout the Mediterranean basin and also around the Caspian and Black Seas, and to China.
A century before Christ, records already existed of 29 different varieties of fig.
There are numerous references to it in the Bible. Adam and Eve, expelled from Paradise and needing to dress themselves, made their loincloths from fig leaves (not vine leaves). Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all adored figs, feeding them to their athletes, and fattening their geese with this fruit to produce foie gras. It was the Romans who spread fig trees throughout Europe in the wake of their conquests.
The French expression mi-figue, mi raisin (half fig, half grape) used to express an ambiguous situation, originated with a trick played by the Corinthians: they mixed cheaper figs with the grapes that they sold to the Venetians.
Although Mediterranean, fig trees thrive in less mild climates, such as that of Brittany. And they survive there for a long time. One planted in 1621 in the town of Roscoff in the Finistère district was unfortunately cut down in 1986. Wandering around the streets of Paris, one comes across fig trees. There is even a Parisian street called rue du Figuier (street of the fig tree) in the 4th arrondissement. Its name dates from 1280 from the giant fig tree that once stood there. Margaret of Valois, the Queen of France, had it cut down in 1605 because it stood in the way of her coach.
The fig tree was introduced to Mexico in the 16th century by the Spanish Conquistadors. Missionaries took it to California in the 18th century: the main variety of American fig is now known as the Mission fig.
The fig has an ostiole or "eye" opening at the base, covered with small scales, which opens gradually as the fruit matures. When a fig is ripe, it is said to have "a tear in its eye", referring to a drop of nectar that forms at that point. It may also have small fissures in its skin and be slightly wrinkled.
Firm, hard, and smooth figs are not ripe.
No trace of flour. Organic dried figs are not treated with sulfites and do not keep well.
Figs are sold fresh or dried, but also frozen, quartered, and in jam.
Boukha is a fig brandy made in Tunisia.
Fresh figs do not need to be washed because their skin is porous and will absorb the water. They do not need peeling, a wipe with a damp cloth will suffice.
They can be cooked whole in the oven, and used as a garnish for poultry, made into confit, or poached in red wine. They can serve as an accompaniment for cured ham.
Figs can be made into jam, preserve, chutney or pie filling, and can be used to make sorbet.
Dried figs form part of the Thirteen Desserts traditionally served at Christmas in Provence. It is also used in Moroccan tagines, pastillas, and foie gras terrines.
Fig leaves are very fragrant, and are used to cook en papillote.
Fresh figs should be used as soon as possible because they ferment quickly.
They do not withstand cold very well. Storing them in cool rooms or refrigerators is therefore impossible.
They can be placed in rows on a tray, without touching, at a cool ambient temperature and covered with a cloth.
Dried figs can be stored for 6–12 months at ambient temperature in a dry place. The best-before date is indicated on the packaging.
Fresh figs are high in fiber, especially pectin. They contain carbohydrates, some minerals, and very few vitamins. Their nutritional interest is therefore limited.
On the other hand, after their water is removed, dried figs are a good energy food that is rich in magnesium, calcium, iron, and fiber.
There are more than 150 varieties of common fig trees grown in many countries: Turkey, Greece, the United States, Portugal, Spain, etc.
The figs are classified into three types depending on their color: black or purple, red or gray, and green or white.
The trees are also classified into two categories depending on their production:
. double-harvest trees produce two harvests a year: at the end of spring (on the branches produced the previous year) and in the fall. The figs produced in spring are called brevas or early figs.
. sinf single-harvest trees produce a single harvest at the end of the summer.
- Fresh figs
Several varieties are found in France:
. Bourjassote noire or Violette de Solliès: this is known under the denomination Figue de Solliès, with PDO status since 2011. It is grown in the Var region between Toulon and Hyères, representing 75% of French fig output. Mid-August through mid-November.
. Figue d'Argenteuil or Versaillaise Blanche: light green skin, with white, very sweet and tasty flesh. July and September.
. Goutte d'or: large black fig, very sweet. Spring and fall.
. Célestine or Cavalière,purplish gray, grown in the southwest. Spring and fall.
. Bellone: large round black fig, red flesh that is sweet and slightly acidic. Mainly grown in the Nice region.
- Dried figs
Harvested when they are very ripe and already a little dry, the figs are washed in salted water, then treated with sulfites to ensure long life. They are then dried. The drying process used to take place under the sun. Now it takes place in ventilated ovens.
Dried figs are presented in different ways:
Pulled figs have been stretched; protoben figs are artificially elongated; Lerida figs are pressed flat and arranged in rows; layer figs are separated by the stalk.
They are all whitish. This is usually a natural appearance caused by the sugar rising to the surface of the dried fig. However, it is sometimes added flour.
The best figs come from Turkey. Figs from Italy are less fine, and Greek figs are tougher.
They are available throughout the year, but seasonal figs reach the markets in October: They are more swollen and brown, but they become increasingly lighter as they dry.