Figs


Ficus carica L.















Figs are believed to be indigenous to western Asia or northern Asia Minor. They're believed to have been distributed by man throughout the Mediterranean area. The Spaniards brought them to America in 1520, when Cortez introduced them to Mexico. Just prior to that Cardinal Pole brought them to England. The trees reached North America in about 1790. Remnants of figs have been found in excavation sites traced to at least 5,000 BC.



Figs are one of the sweetest fruits. They were used as a sweetener long before refined sugar. To this day they are still used for this purpose in North Africa and the Middle East. They’re one of the oldest fruits recognizable by man. The fig tree is mentioned in the Bible…



"And they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day." Genesis 3:7

"The fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape a good smell. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away." Song of Solomon 2:13

"They shall sit every man under his vine, and under his fig tree." Micah 4: 4



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Figs
Henri Du Monceau
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Some scholars believe the fig was the forbidden fruit picked by Eve. They’re used in places as a diuretic and a laxative. They’re high in fiber, calcium, iron and potassium.



When advocating the conquest of Carthage, Cato used as his argument the advantage of attaining fruits as dazzling as the North African figs, specimens of which he pulled from his toga as models in the Roman Senate. It was first recorded in the tablets of Lagash in Sumer (2738-2371) B.C. and has appeared in recorded history from Egypt to Greece, where it was eaten as a staple food of both the rich and the poor.



The fig was so important as a staple food that Egyptian armies cut down the figs and vines of their enemies. Whole baskets of figs have been discovered among the tomb offerings of dynastic kings. Homer wrote about figs when he described the orchard of Alcinous, which was visited by Ulysses. It featured figs, olives, pomegranates, apples and pears. The poet Alexis of Thuria in the 4th century celebrated the token of the average Greek, a dried fig." Cleopatra ended her life with an asp, which was brought to her in a basket of figs.



Figs were one of the crops that became well known in China during the T'ang Dynasty of the 700's BC. The grape and the olive are the only fruits of more importance in Hellenic culture and economic life. Pliny the Elder (AD 23 - 79) recorded several stories about fig trees in Rome. He proclaimed that a sacred fig tree grew in the Roman Forum. The Greeks believed the fig was a gift of Demeter, and made sacred to Dionysus.



The fig tree is considered the Tree of Life and Knowledge from Central Africa to the Far East. The Bo tree, under which Buddha meditated, was a variety of the fig tree.



Figs grow best in dryer, warm, temperate climates and the Mediterranean produces the best quality fruit. If it rains during the fruit development and ripening it could split. If the tree is dormant it can survive temperatures to around 12 degrees F. Actively growing trees can be damaged at 30 degrees F. In the United States, all cultivars are suitable for growing in California.



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Figs in Tuscany
Nancy Wiseman
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The fig tree is deciduous and is very picturesque, growing up to 50 feet tall with the typical height being 10 to 30 feet. The branches are twisting and spread wider than taller. The wood is weak and decays rapidly, leaving nodal tumors where branches have been shed or removed. If the tree is in areas where frequent frost damage occurs, it will grow as a multiple branched shrub. The tree can grow as tall as 100 feet and live as long as 100 years, but domestic trees kept pruned to a height of 16 feet.



Fig leaves are bright green and single. They alternate and are large, growing to about 1 foot in length. They’re fairly deeply lobed with 1 to 5 sinuses. They’re rough and hairy on the upper surface and soft and hairy on the underside. The foliage has a tropical feel in the summer.



The flowers are tiny and out of sight because they’re clustered inside synconiums. Pollinating insects can access the flowers through an opening in the apex of the synconium. In the common fig the flowers are all female and don’t need to be pollinated. There are 3 other types of figs. The caprifig has male and female flowers; therefore, they require visits by a tiny wasp. The Smyma fig needs cross-pollination by caprifigs to develop normally. The San Pedro fig is an intermediate, which means its first crop is independent like the common but the second crop requires pollination.



The common fig produces a first crop, which is called the breba crop. This is in the spring on last season’s growth. The second crop is in autumn on the new growth and is referred to as the main crop. The mature fruit has a tough peel, which often cracks upon ripening and exposes the pulp beneath. The interior is a white inner rind and contains a seed mass bound with jelly-like flesh. The seeds are edible and numerous. They’re generally hollow, unless they’ve been pollinated. The pollinated seeds have the characteristic nutty taste of dried figs.



Figs must be fully ripened on the tree before picking, because they won’t ripen after picking. The ripe fruit is slightly soft and bends at the neck. They must be handled gently to prevent bruising. Fresh fruit can only be stored 2 or 3 days in the refrigerator. Some varieties are delicious if dried. It takes 4 to 5 days to dry them in the sun or 10 to 12 hours in a dehydrator. The dried figs can be stored for 6 to 8 months.





CULTIVARS

Named for the California Franciscan missions where they have been cultivated since 1770

Adriatic Origin Central Italy
Black Mission Origin Balearic Islands
Blanche Italian Honey fig
Brown Turkey Origin Provence
Celeste Good for Southeast
Conadria Origin Ira Condit
Croisic Only edible caprifig
Croisic For north coast and Pacific Northwest
Desert King Origin Madera, Calif. 1920
Excel Origin W.B. Storey, Riverside, 1975
Flanders Origin I.J. Condit, Riverside, 1965
Judy Origin Leonard Jessen, Pasadena, 1986
Kadota Requires hot, dry climate for best quality
Mission
Len Origin Leonard Jessen, Pasadena, 1984
Osborn's Prolific Only for north coast, Pacific Northwest. Poor in warm climates
Panachee Requires long, warm growing season
Tena Origin W.B. Storey, Riverside, 1975
Genoa Very late in northern California, continuing to ripen even after first frosts
Ventura Ripens late but matures well in cool areas
Verte Recommended for short-summer climates





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