Don’t ‘give a fig?’
Maybe you should!
Nutritionally figs are high in potassium, iron, fiber and calcium. Medicinally they can serve as a diuretic and a laxative. Historically one of the earliest foods, they were recorded on stone tablets circa 2500 B.C. and came to America in 1520. Primitive foodies used cooked figs as sweeteners and from then they evolved into jams, jellies, desserts, sauces and even appetizers. One of the most famous of cookies is the Fig Newton. How about the Figgy Pudding lauded in British song and literature and often credited to Mrs. Cratchit in the Dickens ghost tale, The Christmas Carol?
Figs aren’t everybody’s favorites. Real aficionados like my husband Jim love the taste. His favorite treat is to eat them right off the tree. Or it would be if he ever got the chance. Alas, he met his gardening nemesis with figs. He’s had much success with scores of vegetables and flowers. But after planting two fig trees years ago, has yet to enjoy a fully ripened home fruit. If they grow at all, the squirrels and birds beat him to it.
Enter Tom and Laura Lindenmayer who are in possession of one fantastically flourishing fig tree. Tom and Jim sometimes fish together when their schedules jibe but the generous Lindenmayers always keep us on their family and friends “fig distribution list” and each summer invite us to help ourselves. Figs don’t last long after being picked, but that’s a moot point with Tom and Jim as both like them fresh.
There are many ways and dozens of recipes for saving figs for later. My maternal Grandma Clare used to spend her summers “putting up” fruits and vegetables. In her later years she still did a bit of that and I remember a cross stitched emblem in her kitchen which she referred to as the farmer’s wife’s Ninth Beatitude: “Blessed are they who Can for they shall be Preserved.”
I never had that inclination, but do like to use fresh figs in recipes. One of the fastest is to just slice them over vanilla ice cream. To get the traditional flavor, sprinkle a bit of brown sugar and cinnamon over the ice cream first. But to me the ultimate fig dish is with baked brie, which can be an appetizer, or a full meal with crusty bread and a salad. If Eve had had this recipe, things might have turned out differently. In any case, once you’ve tasted this, you’ll think you’re dining in the culinary Garden of Eden.
BAKED BRIE WITH FRESH FIGS
½ cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons water
6 fresh figs, steamed and quartered
1 (14-oz) round, 4 ¼ inch diameter brie cheese
½ cup toasted almonds (optional)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 325 degrees
Heat brown sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat until sugar is completely dissolved. Add figs and vanilla and cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Stir in almonds (if used) and vanilla. Place brie wheel in a baking dish (round, preferably) and pour fig mixture over the top.
Bake in preheated oven for 10-15 minutes until softened but not melted. Best served with water crackers.
If this doesn’t persuade you to “give a fig” – nothing will.