Updated: Aug 25
Said Menander, a Greek dramatist who was alive from 342/41 – c. 290 BC. To call a spade a spade is a figure of speech that has been carried across time and is used commonly today, meaning to be blunt and to the point. The fig was forgotten, but we’re bringing your attention back to this delightful fruit, as August is fig season here in the Mediterranean and a delicious thing that is too.
It’s such a rich fruit that it has become a symbol in multiple cultures for fertility and prosperity. In ancient Greece, Homer describes an ever-bearing orchard of figs in the garden of Alcinous in book III of Deipnosphistis. Followers of our God of wine and pleasure, Bacchus, adopt the fig in religious and ceremonial rites, while the Buddhists say that the Buddha sat beneath a fig tree when he gained enlightenment, and some Christians believe that the fruit of knowledge was the fig. The fig leaf is after all the first sign of modesty, covering Adam and Eve’s ‘secrets’. In Israel, the fig depicts spiritual and physical health, while in Italy, making the hand gesture of the fig by placing the thumb in the middle of the four digits with a clenched fist, masks a potent meaning in the silence of sign language - womankind’s sexual organ. For all the saucy symbolism that figs evoke, they are a bedrock feature of our diet, and remains of figs are evident at archaeological sites dating back to 5000 BC. It’s said that they reached Greece via the Phoenicians, and spread from here to Asia Minor and Palestine.
The fig tree (Ficus carica) is thought to be native to the area joining Turkey to Northern India. It grows mostly in the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Its name in Greek is “syko” and we call the fig “the poor man’s food” because so many have survived in times of destitution on the nutrients the fig offers, as they contain significant quantities of calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and iron. Eat them raw or dried, cooked, peeled, or with skin to boost your immune system with vitamins A & K. For those readers counting calories, note that 100g of fresh gives approximately 68kcal, while 100g dry gives 247kcal! If you’re hungry for their anti-aging, phenolic and antioxidant properties, however, dried fig is better. They promote digestive health, as a probiotic and a good source of gut bacteria. Also, skin conditions such as dermatitis which is characterized by dry and itchy skin can be soothed by fig-based creams.
Would it surprise you that half a cup of figs has as much calcium as half a cup of milk? Also, they have more fiber than prunes, more potassium than bananas, and no fat at all. More fascinating yet is that the fruit blossom of the fig doesn’t appear outside but rather inside the fruit, penetrating the pulp with yellow, crunchy, edible seeds, giving them that popping texture.
There are over 700 varieties worldwide and fig trees even have their own breed of wasp (Blastophaga grossorum, Psinas in Greek) which is charged with pollinating the fruit. Turkey produces 55% of the world’s supply, followed by Iran producing 18%, and Spain, Greece (mainly Kalamata & Kymi), Afghanistan, the USA, and Italy fairly evenly share the rest of the sweet and succulent pie.
Now that it’s August and they’re hanging heavy and dropping off trees, it’s the perfect time to create one of our favorite dishes, combining the sweetness of figs with crumbling, salty Greek Feta cheese.
Try it out for yourself!
Fig & Feta Salad with Honey Dressing
3-4 whole fresh figs
150g mixed green leaves, rocket included
40g of pine nuts, toasted
50g of Greek feta cheese, sliced
2 tablespoons of flower honey
3 tablespoons of Greek Extra Virgin Olive Oil (I would recommend Koroneiki, Kolovi or Manaki variety).
1 tablespoon of white balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and cracked pepper
1. Cut fresh figs in half and set them aside.
2. In a large bowl assemble green leaves and sprinkle with pine nuts. Arrange sliced feta cheese on top.
3. Place figs on top of the salad.
4. To make the honey dressing, mix all ingredients together and shake well.
5. Drizzle honey dressing on top, and season with salt and pepper.
6. Serve simply accompanied by some fresh sourdough bread or grilled meat or seafood.