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VOL. 38 | NO. 21 | Friday, May 23, 2014

Figs or dates? Both better than a Newton

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Fresh Figs with Mascarpone and Honey

4 large fresh, ripe figs, halved lengthwise
1/2 cup mascarpone, softened
1/3 cup honey
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice

Arrange the figs cut-side up on four plates. Using the back of a teaspoon, gently press into the center of the fig to make a small indentation. Add a spoonful of mascarpone to each center; set plates aside.
Place honey and spices in a small microwavable bowl and zap until the honey is liquefied and warm. Blend well, and then drizzle over each fig. Serve immediately.

Some of you probably only know figs as something gooey in the middle of a cookie. On the other hand, maybe you only know them by the famous little Christmas song: “Oh, bring me some figgy pudding / Oh, bring me some figgy pudding ...”

I had a grandmother who had a few fig trees, and I know them as a sweet and flavorful fruit. I also remember she’d scold us for picking them, but only if she caught us.

She never cared that we picked the leaves and pretended to be Adam and Eve. Well, maybe that’s not true, but we did love playing around her fig trees.

California Date Shake

4-5 dates, chopped
Vanilla ice cream
A bit of milk

Blend and enjoy

Let me tell you a little about the fruity fig other than what you know about Fig Newtons, and about dates – and how to not get the two confused.

The Bible abounds with mentions of figs. The first mention was, of course, in Genesis 3:7: “And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.”

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

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

The fig was a very important fruit in Bible times. Egyptians considered them to be sacred to the point of including a basket of figs in tombs. In ancient Greece, Plato wrote “athletes were to be fed figs to make them stronger.”

Fig culture spread between shores until it finally made its way to Italy and then on to the rest of Europe. We can thank the Spaniards and Franciscan monks with baskets full of figs for spreading the popularity of them over to the new Americas.

There are several varieties of figs, as with most fruits:

Bacon Parmesan Dates

18-20 medjool dates
2 ounces Parmigano Reggiano cheese, cut into squares
6-7 slices smoked bacon, cut into thirds

Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees. Insert cheese into the dates. Wrap with a piece of the bacon, and then secure with a toothpick. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Turn after five minutes. Drain on paper towels and serve.

The black mission fig, which got its name from the mission fathers who planted it along the California coast, has a black-purplish skin and a beautiful pink flesh. It’s often eaten dried.

The kadota fig, the American version of the dottato Fig from Italy, has a green skin with amber flesh when ripe. A similar variety is the Peter’s Honey fig. These varieties are practically seedless, but birds usually leave them alone because they’re green and so they think they’re not ripe.

The Adriatic, which is used mostly to make fig bars, has a bright green skin and a pink-tan flesh.

The fig plant is a shrub that bares a green, or greenish-purple, edible fruit. Small and round, the fruit has a fleshy, seedy pulp. Today, the fig is grown in warm regions with long summers, such as the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and the southwestern U.S.

Dates are the fruit of the palm date tree, one of approximately 30 palm tree species. Grown mainly in the Middle East and North Africa, the fruit is dark brown when fully ripe and sun-dried, but has four stages of development described by growers by their Arabic names: kimri is when the fruit is unripe (green), while khalal dates are full-size and crunchy (yellow).

Rutab means the dates are ripe and soft (amber), and sun-dried ripe dates are called tamar.

Dates, one of the sweetest fruits in the world, are harvested between September and March, in Arizona and California where the U.S. crop is grown. If you’ve never had a freshly harvested date, they’re worth seeking out for their insanely sweet, caramel-like taste and soft texture.

In the U.S. the most commonly available dates are Deglet Noor dates, which are semi-soft, slender, and a bit chewy, and Medjool dates, which are plump and tender.

For those of you who have never tasted a fig, other than a Newton, let me say, those are NOTHING like a fresh fig. Eating a Fig Newton and thinking you are tasting a fig is like eating a Strawberry Pop Tart and thinking you are tasting strawberries.

You should give the real thing a taste test, and fortunately, in the South, fig season is almost here. It usually peaks in July, so keep your eye open at the stores and outdoor markets, then try this recipe. It’s delicious.

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