“To eat figs off the tree in the very early morning, when they have been barely touched by the sun, is one of the exquisite pleasures of the Mediterranean.” (Elizabeth David)
Figs are a luscious fruit that dates back thousands of years, if carvings from the Middle Ages are anything to go by.
The fig is an intriguing and complex mix of bitter green and milky sweet facets with ripe fruity notes, often used in woody perfume compositions or in tandem with a hint of coconut and greenery to give a Mediterranean feel to a perfume. Figs were popularised in modern perfumery with a scent called Premier Figuier by L’Artisan Parfumeur about 25 years ago. Ever the innovator, Thierry Mugler also launched his Womanity perfume as a sweet and savoury homage to the fig back in 2010.
Figs hold a position of symbolism in many world religions, including Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and Buddhism, representing fertility, peace, and prosperity. Ancient Olympians earned figs for their athletic prowess, and Pliny the Elder extolled the fruit’s restorative powers. The prophet Mohammed reportedly identified the fig as the one fruit he would most wish to see in paradise.
Among the oldest fruits consumed by humans, figs tell a complex story in culinary history. Figs sweetened all types of desserts before the widespread use of sugar and still appears as the main ingredient in popular holiday dishes and the commercially venerable Fig Newtons cookie since 1891. High in potassium, iron, fibre, and plant calcium, figs are also used for medicinal purposes as a diuretic and laxative.
Two countries have placed a strangler fig on their coats of arms. In Indonesia’s case, the tree symbolises unity from diversity, its dangling roots representing the many islands that comprise the nation. In the case of Barbados, it was inspired by the view that greeted the Portuguese explorer Pedro a Campos, when his ship reached the island in 1536. He saw many strangler figs growing along the island’s coast where masses of ruddy-brown roots hung from their branches like matted strands of hair. A Campos named the island Los Barbados – “the bearded ones”.
The ever popularity of figs are expressed in these two proverbs. “If you have figs in your knapsack, everyone will want to be your friend.” (Albanian Proverb). “Sharing the figs can leave you with none at all.” (Greek Proverb)