Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Eat a Fig, burn in Hell!

Fresh figs are here. Finally.

A tricky little fruit. Having two harvesting seasons – early summer and early winter.

When they are there, I jump on them. They can be my favorite fruit. When they are just at that perfect point of ripeness.

When I was looking around on the Internet for info on figs, I found a happy little Web site that indicated that eating figs leads to eternal damnation: Were there such things (God, Hell, people going to Hell for eating figs, etc.), I’m sure I’ve been condemned long ago, so on with the fig story!

Here in SoCal, we get the Black Mission figs. They can be good. Often quite sweet.

In Europe, especially Germany, where there are large groups from Turkey, Greece, and other southern Mediterranean climes, with a much stronger tradition of enjoying figs, the figs are even better. Of the 800 or so varieties of figs, I can’t be sure exactly which I was able to get there, but probably Brown Turkey, maybe Adriatic, Kodota, or Genoa varieties.

You can be sure that there is no tradition of fresh figs in my family. My relatives of the pale northern European stock didn’t associate with things Mediterranean. Whether fruits, or families trying to move to their neighborhoods. I’ve never gotten anyone to even try one yet.

On rare occasions, dried figs turned up around Christmas time (just like those apricots). Maybe in a fruit basket that was a gift. They usually sat in the back of the pantry until they were thrown out years later.

Mainly, we consumed them in the form of Fig Newtons. The cookies. Prepackaged things with the gooey inside wrapped in the soft cookie shell. In that form they were sanitized, de-fig-ized. The ethnic fruit safely hidden inside a protective cookie and Madison Avenue marketing.

We scarfed these things down by the millions. Never knowing that the fig in the name had any connection to an actual fruit. Never occurred to us. We had no connection to the actual fruit, didn’t even know there was an actual fruit, didn’t care. So it was just a name. They could have been called Joe Newtons, would not have made a difference.

The cookie itself was fun because you could eat it many different ways. All squished together in a mushy ball – much like it emerged from your lunch bag after a morning in your school locker, or you could pull it apart and eat the top and bottom separately. And pieces of it stuck fantastically to everything. Fun fun fun! In any event – a bag of these things never lasted more than a day.

I’m pretty sure I started eating fresh figs while living in Munich. Fruits and vegetables were sold from carts on every street corner there, and they all carried fresh figs when in season. We had an old couple on our street that showed up in early spring, and lasted till about October, before heading back to Italy to avoid the cold winter.

Frequent trips to various parts of Italy probably deepened my relationship with fresh figs. We often got fresh figs as part of breakfast there.

In Paris, and in Hamburg, I could almost always get fantastic fruit, especially in Hamburg, as I lived in the section of town, Altona, that had the highest Turkish population. Super ripe, super sweet. Fruit you had to eat within a day of purchase. It went downhill fast. But that was never a problem.

Here in California, it’s a bit tougher to find the precious little gems. And when I do, they are often not quite as ripe or sweet as I would hope.

So, coming up – fig tarts, grilled figs, fig ice cream, figs in salads, and lots of other things.

But these figs, the first ones, I am just going to enjoy as they are. Raw, unembellished. While sitting in the shade in the backyard. Hopefully there’s a nice breeze, birds, and no lawn mowers. Sort of a meditation of figginess. My mantra? Sweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet!

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Anonymous Sy said...

Found your site when I googled figs. I had never had them myself (except for in Fig Newtons) and am seeing them all over the place here in London. I want to try them fresh and dried but am a little intimidated as I have never really experienced them (I too am originally from So Cal). Tried it tonight by stuffing dried figs with a mixture of goat cheese and dried berries and then wrapped it with procuitto. Nice but I not a huge fan of goat cheese. Can you recommend anything else to stuff them with? I tried a few with marscapone but, as it has no distinct taste, it lacked that salty creamy distinct bite that goat cheese lends. I did enjoy the fig and will try to buy some fresh ones tomorrow. Any advice be cool! I'll check this post again in a few days. Thanks!

3:29 PM  

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