I grew up with a few fig trees in the backyard. My grandparents’ house, located in the center of Bulgaria, has a huge garden and there were 3 fig trees to be exact. They made me happy every summer, from June till September. As the biggest fruit-lover in the whole family I enjoyed the freshly picked pleasures every day. One of the three trees was giving fruits of the green variety, which were as big as the palm of a man’s hand. The other two: perfect tiny purple balls, which were absolutely well suited for jams and marmalade.
Figs are simply THE summer-is-here indicator for the whole Mediterranean area. From Turkey-Greece-Bulgaria through Croatia-Italy-Spain up to France, the fruit loves warm places and grows even in less warm territories. Some people love them raw, others mix their sweet flavour with savory treats. The Italians for example combine them raw on top of a fresh slice of bread and piece of prosciutto. The French serve fig jam together with the famous cheese plate (plateau de fromage), it is a culinary duo without any doubt. Greek, Bulgarians, and Italians are simply addicted to this summer fruit. They often have some packed to take to the beach and enjoy them pure, with skin peeled or not depending on personal preference! With some 255 thousand tonnes a year, Turkey is the biggest producer of figs in the world, followed by Egypt, Algeria, and Iran. From all figs grown on Turkish ground: 30% are for raw consumption, while 70% are being sun-dried before being sold on the domestic or international markets.
Native to the Middle East and West Asia, the fruit came via Turkey to Europe. The Spaniards brought it up to California, where the sort “mission fig” is famous still nowadays. Did you know, by the way, that the edible fig is actually one of the first plants that was cultivated by humans? Fossilised figs dating to about 9400–9200 BC were found in the Jordan Valley. They are actually pre-dating the domestication of wheat, barley, and legumes. It is believed that figs were planted and cultivated intentionally, one thousand years before the next crops were domesticated (wheat and rye).
But lets go back to the summer market stands and fruit shopping. Once you get hold of fresh figs, make sure to enjoy them straight away or to store them in a cool and dark place (not longer than a day or two). They don’t really keep long and are best enjoyed when the fruit is bit soft, if you like them sweet and simply melting in your mouth. The honey-explosion mixed with thousands of tiny crispy seeds is what all fig-lovers die for.