Figs for the modern table

by Betty Wrenn Day - Posted on Aug 28, 2013 - 02:19 PM

Photo: Figs: It's the time of year to pick them. Photo by Betty Wrenn Day

Figs: It's the time of year to pick them. Photo by Betty Wrenn Day

It’s time to pick those figs, the oldest fruit known to man. And there is so much more to do with them than just making fig jam or preserves.

Ficus carica (a member of the mulberry family), known to us as the common fig, has a history that dates to the earliest of times with mentions in the Bible.

It is believed figs originated in the fertile parts of southern Arabia and spread to ancient Crete and then subsequently to ancient Greece where they became a staple food. This edible growth of a plant was also revered in ancient Rome where figs were thought of as a sacred fruit.

In ancient times people carried strings of dried figs on long arduous journeys across the desert. The figs were a nutritious high protein, high carbohydrate food in a region where food was scarce.

Figs were brought to the Western Hemisphere by the Spaniards in the early 16th century. By the 19th century when a Spanish mission was established in San Diego, California, fig trees were planted. In the 20th century, California began focusing on the cultivation and processing of figs. Today California is one of the larger producers of figs, in addition to Turkey, Greece, Portugal and Spain. In the Tidewater area one or two fig trees, locally called fig bushes, can be found in many backyards. It is sort of a custom to have a "fig bush" whether you eat figs or not.