A History of the Fig

The Fig has a long and storied history. It has followed the footsteps of mankind around the world and become a highly valued fruit in many regions. Archaeological finds of this mystical fruit date as far back as around 11,400 B.C.! It has even been posited that the Forbidden Fruit was a Fig, not the apple most commonly portrayed in the Fall of Adam and Eve.

fig_06-07aMost wild fig trees require pollination. However, there are natural genetic changes that result in a few wild trees that do not require pollination. Reproducing these mutant fig trees can only be done by taking cuttings and intentionally re-planting them. Thus, evidence of fig cultivation has been found that dates this fruit among the earliest crops planted and harvested by humans.

The Fig has many Biblical ties because it was cultivated in the areas in which events from the Bible took place. It took on symbolic significance when Adam and Eve used fig leaves as the first clothes. Figs are mentioned throughout the Bible over fifty times.

Ficus Carica is most likely indigenous to Asia Minor, part of what we presently know as Turkey. From there, it developed and became widely cultivated throughout the Mediterranean region. Greek and Roman civilizations esteemed figs so highly that their love of the fruit influenced the invasion of Greece by Xerxes and the destruction of Carthage by the Romans. Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher, writes a short explanation of the caprification process, whereby the Smyrna type figs are pollinated, in his “History of Animals”. Romulus and Remus are pictured nursing from the mother wolf while underneath a fig tree.

Greeks and Romans helped spread the cultivation of figs to other countries under their influence. At various times, figs abounded in Africa, Portugal, Spain, France, and had even made their way to the Isle of Britain. Turkey has remained a center of fig cultivation and production since the earliest times of the fig. Figs did not make the trip to North America until Franciscan Missionaries from Spain founded Missions in California. Fresno eventually became the center of California fig cultivation and production, and is currently the only region in the US where figs are grown on a large commercial scale.

Where are they Grown

Turkey is the world’s largest fig producer, followed by Egypt, Turkey, Algeria, Morocco and Iran. The US follows up that group at number six, with California accounting for 98% of national production.

FigVariety

Although there are hundreds of varieties, what many find in retail or grocery stores are usually a select few of those which stand out for their superior flavor and sweetness.

Some of these are: Black Mission, Sierra, Tena, Conadria, and Calimyrna. Figs make excellent back-yard fruit trees because they are hardy (except in climates that have very cold winters, like those in some Northern U.S. states) and they produce a reliably good crop year to year.

What is the best way to eat a fig?

Some say that there is no better way to enjoy a fig than when fresh. Figs are excellent when eaten fresh, but, being such an ancient food, those with culinary talents have created other exquisite ways to eat figs throughout history.

Figs, fresh or dried, can be delicious additions to desserts, salads, entrees, and appetizers. One of the oldest ways of enjoying the goodness of figs is by making fig preserves or jam. Browse our recipes page to discover some new ways of eating figs.

Figs have been part of the Mediterranean diet for millenia. The earliest cultivators of figs were from this region. The Mediterranean part of the world still includes the largest producers and consumers of figs. However, love of the fruit has spread over time, and since the advent of the commercial fig industry in the Central Valley of California in the early 20th century, North America has begun to show increased favor for the fig. Most people first encounter figs through a well-known cookie that has sweet, soft fig in the center.

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