Shhh. Don’t tell everyone, but what Eve actually offered Adam, the fruit that caused the downfall of life in paradise, wasn’t an apple but a fig. Think about it. Once the couple discovered the error of their ways they “sewed fig leaves together” to cover their private parts, overcome with sudden modesty. Had they eaten an apple it seems they might have sewn together apple leaves, right?
Further proof that it may have been the fig (I say may because we have no snapshot of what actually happened – it is simple hearsay) is that the Latin word used in the story of Adam and Eve to describe the fruit that the hapless Eve offered the even more hapless Adam is pomom. Pomom in Latin simply means fruit, thus leaving the variety open to interpretation.
Fig Since Time Immemorial
Whichever fruit passed from one hand to another in that mythic garden, the fig has been around since time immemorial. Ulysses clung to a fig tree to escape Charybdis; Remus and Romulus, the brothers who founded Rome, suckled the wolf under a fig tree, and Plutarch insisted that the fig juice was a tenderizer. It is suspected that the Greeks brought the fig to what is now the region around Marseilles, where it thrived. Louis the XIV loved figs so much he demanded that his gardeners’ plant more than 700 varieties in the garden at Versailles, and it is said he ate them at every meal, ensuring the fruit a place in French gastronomy. Today there are more than 800 varieties of figs available.
Drôle de Fruit
The fig is a “drôle de fruit” a funny kind of fruit, for it’s not actually a fruit but a little bag containing thousands of fruits, which are the crunchy seeds while the red filaments are actually flowers?
Dependent vs. Independent Fig
Cultivated figs are independent, but wild figs are not. The wild version depends on a tiny wasp for pollination. The queen wasp, a collector of pollen, loves to lay eggs within the moist and fragrant interior of the fig, and she slips inside through a tiny opening at the blossom end of the fruit. There, she wiggles down in comfort, lays her eggs and simultaneously spreads around pollen to pollinate the fruit within. A male egg – a prince? A King? – attends her within the fig, eventually excavating a tunnel in the fruit to allow her escape, which she does, leaving behind her eggs. When they hatch, the babies escape too but not the male who, intoxicated with his work and his surroundings, expires within the fig. Does this mean we eat wasp with fig? Maybe, if the fig in question is wild. Cultivated figs don’t need the queen and her antics so there is little likelihood of a king wasp within.
In French cuisine the fig is served in so many ways. One of our favorites here at Dancing Tomatoes is poached in red wine tinged with rosemary and honey. Prepared this way they take on a heady depth which turns them into more of a vegetable than a fruit, ideal for serving alongside poultry, lamb, even beef.
Shhh. Another secret to end the story. If you like, these figs can also become a dessert. Serve them as they are, with their reduced juices, along with a scoop of vanilla or honey ice cream. Or, perch them atop a tart filled with praline cream. Or…well, you’ll come up with all manner of ideas for these glorious figs.
Fresh Figs Baked in Wine - Les Figues Fraîches au Vin Rouge
- 16 fresh figs rinsed and trimmed
- 2 heaping tablespoons sugar
- 1 cup;250 ml rich red wine, such as one from the Languedoc
- 1/3 cup;80ml 80ml filtered water
- 3 tablespoons honey preferably lavender or other fragrant honey
- 2 branches fresh rosemary
- Wipe off the figs with a clean towel and cut them in half, vertically. Place them in one layer, cut side down, in an oven-proof dish, sprinkle them with the sugar then pour the wine over them, along with the water. Bake until they are tender but haven’t lost their shape, about 30 minutes. Remove the figs from the oven.
- Carefully pour the cooking juices from the figs into a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the honey and the rosemary and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer until the liquid has reduced to a thin syrup. Remove from the heat and reserve.
- To serve, place the figs alongside whatever you are serving them with. Drizzle the figs with the syrup. Season with salt if you like, and serve.