As I stroll along the local farmer's market and mingle with fellow patrons, I have set it as my mission to absorb the diversity in colours and textures of various produce prior the approach of Thanksgiving, which marks the end of the 2009 farmer's market season.
As my eyes glaze over the glorious gems of heirloom tomatoes, my mind began to mesmerise the rich scent and flavour of black mission figs....yes, Figs indeed. The magical union between these two "fruits" is the result of the most refreshing salad for your sensory palate on a Sunday afternoon....
The fig could be considered the perfect fruit, except that it's not a fruit at all, but rather a "false fruit," or syncomium. Within the globe of the "fruit" are little clusters of flowers that look similar to threads.
The edible fig is one of the first plants that were cultivated by humans. Nine subfossil figs of a parthenocarpic type dating to about 9400–9200 BC were found in the early Neolithic village Gilgal I (in the Jordan Valley, 13 km north of Jericho). The find predates the domestication of wheat, barley, and legumes, and may thus be the first known instance of agriculture. It is proposed that they may have been planted and cultivated intentionally, one thousand years before the next crops were domesticated. The ficus carica, which produces the fig, is just one of more than 800 species, including trees, shrubs, and vines, within the ficus genus.
Figs can be eaten fresh or dried, and used in jam-making. Most commercial production is in dried or otherwise processed forms, since the ripe fruit does not transport well, and once picked does not keep well.
~ These jams from France are among my favourites! ~
Apart from its deliciousness, figs are also an excellent snack packaged with health benefits. Figs are one of the highest plant sources of calcium, and has more fibre, both soluble and insoluble, than any other fruits, which is excellent for cardiovascular health. According to USDA data for the Mission variety, dried figs are richest in fiber, copper, manganese, magnesium, potassium, calcium, and vitamin K, relative to human needs. They have smaller amounts of many other nutrients. Figs have a laxative effect and contain many antioxidants. They are good source of flavonoids and polyphenols. In one study, a 40-gram portion of dried figs (two medium size figs) produced a significant increase in plasma antioxidant capacity.
Though my favourite variety is the Black Mission, there are also others available in the U.S. market:
~ Calimyrna, Kadota, Turkish, Black Mission ~
Calimyrna figs ripen to a purpleish blue sometime between October and November. Less sweet and moist than mission. These figs, whose season begins in August, are named for its variety, the California smyrna.
Kadota figs, also known as dottato, can be green or white. They have few seeds and can be used for many purposes. They have a wonderful flavour, but a shorter season that ends in late September or early October.
Brown Turkey (Fresh):
These dark brown figs are one of the most abundant varieties in the United States. Their flesh is pinkish amber, and they are sweet, with a juicy pulp. They are available from May through October/November.
Original smyrna cultivar, they are large, sweet, and light colored.
Turkish figs are primarily used for drying; their season is August to September.
Black Mission (Fresh and Dried):
Black Mission figs have a blackish-purple skin with pinkish flesh. They are the most common and popular variety in the U.S. Introduced to California in 1769 when the San Diego Mission was established, these figs, also known as franciscana, are good for drying. Their season is July to September or October.
Conadria's season is August through September. They are yellow-green with thin skin and white to red flesh. They are good for eating fresh or making into preserves.
Having said all that, lets FIG out!