Patricia West-BarkerFor The Taos News"What fruit has the eye of a widow and wears the cloak of a beggar?" asks an old Spanish riddle. Answer: A really ripe fig, when the oculus on its bottom opens …
"What fruit has the eye of a widow and wears the cloak of a beggar?" asks an old Spanish riddle. Answer: A really ripe fig, when the oculus on its bottom opens just enough to release a teardrop of syrup, and a browning, wrinkled, sometimes tattered skin enrobes the fragrant, fragile fruit.
Figs may be the oldest cultivated fruit in the world. The Romans brought fig trees from Asia Minor to the Mediterranean, where Greeks and Phoenicians spread them through the ancient world. The first cuttings were brought to California by the Spanish and planted at Mission San Diego in 1769; by the middle of the 19th century, they had spread as far north as El Paso.
Although it may seem unlikely, fig trees have also been growing in Albuquerque since the mid-to-late 1800s, brought not by missionaries but by Italian, Greek and Mexican immigrants longing for that sweet taste of home. Four fig trees flourished on the site of the elegant Hotel Alvarado, built in 1902 in downtown Albuquerque. The trees were still living and bearing fruit when the hotel was demolished in 1970.
The long-lived trees (some are known to have borne fruit for up to 200 years) do well in regions with warm, dry summers and cool winters. Colder winters and spring frosts, common in Northern New Mexico, can kill young figs, so trees planted here do best in large containers that can be pulled indoors or into a garage when the temperatures drop.
Figs cannot only satisfy our sugar cravings, they are also a nutritional powerhouse, rich in fiber and vitamin A, and high in minerals such as calcium, iron, copper and potassium.
To eat them out of hand in season, when they are fresh and ripe, look for fruit with cracked skins that are oozing just a little juice. They will keep at room temperature for one or two days if firm. (Arranging them on a plate without touching will help avoid mold.) Refrigerate them for longer storage, or dry them on a sunny windowsill or in a dehydrator.
Dried figs are available year-round in most markets. This simple salad from Katie Webster, published on eatingwell.com, can bring back the sweet-savory taste of summer in deepest winter.
Fig and Goat Cheese Salad
2 cups mixed salad greens
4 dried figs, stemmed and sliced (can substitute dried apricots)
1 ounce fresh goat cheese, crumbled
1½ tablespoons slivered almonds, toasted
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
½ teaspoon honey
Pinch of salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Combine greens, figs (or apricots), goat cheese and almonds in a medium bowl. Whisk oil, vinegar, honey, salt and pepper together in another small bowl. Drizzle the dressing over the salad just before serving and toss.
Salad and dressing can be refrigerated separately for up to 24 hours. Bring dressing to room temperature and remix it before tossing with the salad.
To learn more about growing figs in New Mexico or purchase some fruit or cuttings, visit landofenfigment.com, the website of Albuquerque-based "Fig Man" Lloyd Kreitzer. You can also email to Kreitzer at email@example.com or call him at (505) 266-8000.
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