The fig tree — a symbol of abundance, fertility and sweetness — was one of the first domesticated plants in the Middle East and a favourite in the Mediterranean region. In fact, the fig was so esteemed in Greece that it was used as a training food for early Olympic athletes and was even illegal to export! While considered sacred in ancient times, the fig remains a key player in recipes today and shines as the star ingredient at Maude this month.
A fruit of the ficus tree, the fig resembles an inverted flower with tiny seeds clustered inside. Figs come in a variety of hues, from deep purples to light greens, but their flavour depends more on their location and their ripeness than their colour. Ripe figs should be unblemished and feel heavy for their size, with a faint, honey-like aroma. They can vary in taste from intense, earthy flavours to light and delicate ones and pep up almost any dish.
Figs grow all over the world but especially abound in California, where the warm climate and nutrient-rich soil offer prime harvesting conditions. The relationship between the fruit and the Golden State goes way back to the 1700s, when figs solidified their place at missions along the coast and quickly established themselves as a local favourite. By 1931, California had over 57,000 acres of figs (that's more than 43,000 American football fields!), most of which were located in the Central San Joaquin Valley. Today, the Golden State produces 100 percent of the country’s dried figs and 98 percent of its fresh figs.
Over the years, four main types of figs have nestled their way into pies, pastries and pizzas along the coast. Brown Turkey figs have a purplish brown exterior and a meaty, soft red interior best eaten fresh. Black Mission Figs have a thin purple skin and a watermelon pink flesh with a rich, sweet flavour. Excellent when dried, these figs get their name from the San Diego Mission, where they were first planted in 1769. Calimyrna and Kadota figs have yellow-green skin and red-orange flesh dotted with pulpy seeds. While Calimyrnas taste of honey, jam and butterscotch, Kadotas taste light and syrupy.
Intrigued? Stop by Maude throughout August for a delicious, multi-course degustation featuring none other than this timeless treat. Whether fresh, dried, roasted or stuffed, these plump, teardrop-shaped beauties will add some sweetness and excitement to every dish and the entire evening.
Reservations for our August menu open on Wednesday, 1 July 2015.