Prima Ficus

Prima Ficus

Aylin Öney Tan -
Prima Ficus The fig has to be the first fruit ever. Don’t say that it was the apple, referring to the incontestable Adam and Eve story, and even if the seductive fruit was the apple, it was fig leaves the couple used to clad the crucial areas of their bodies. So even if the fig was not the first fruit, fig leaves were surely the first clothing ever. There is another thing wherein the fig comes first, at least for the Romans. It was the first fruit to mark the end of summer, the first sign of the coming fall and winter. Prima Ficus, literally “the first fig,” was the term used for the first day in August when one feels the change of weather turning away from summer towards autumn. 

Actually, apples and figs start to ripen around the same time. But figs are so perishable when fresh, and apples can keep much longer, both on the trees and after the harvest, that we see the apple as the true fall fruit. It takes time for the fig to be totally and truly ripe, to have the almost honey-like nectar to fully develop. The Romans must have observed that when the first fig is fully ripe, summer is almost over. It is not only the Romans who felt this way. In Arabic, the fig is sometimes referred to as “Kharif,” the word for fall harvest. Figs are described as the fruit descended from paradise by the prophet Muhammad. The word for fig in Arabic, al-Tin, also refers to the Sura 95 of the Quran starting with the oath “By the fig and the olive…”

It is one of the shared fruits that are mentioned in all monotheist religious texts. 

The fig ranks fourth in ripening in the holy “Seven Species” mentioned in the Talmud and the Bible. First, the grains are harvested, wheat and barley, then comes the grapes, followed by figs. The rest belong to the fall and winter, in sequence pomegranates, olives and dates. These are the essential seven grains and fruits of the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle Eastern geography. The bounty of these seven crops equates to a happy and prosperous land where people live in harmony and peace. Actually, peace and prosperity is defined as “each man under his own vine and fig tree” in the infamous biblical quote. According to Orthodox Christians of this geography the grape is not harvested before Aug. 15, the day of the Assumption. Before that day, the grape is the forbidden fruit; to eat a single grape is considered a sin… a pagan belief, wisely adapted to Christianity, to safeguard the crop! 

Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians christened the grape on Aug. 15, celebrating the opening of the grape harvest season. According to religious beliefs and the agrarian calendar, now is the peak time for figs.

Unfortunately, in this part of the world, no man is under peace under his own vine and fig tree. For the Syrian refugees flooding to Turkish coasts seeking asylum on Greek islands, the fig trees fail to provide enough shelter or food. The harvest time will come for the olives soon, but unfortunately one does not need to be a fortuneteller to say that nothing will go for the better. In this homeland of figs and grapes and olives, from Mesopotamia to the Balkans, fig trees are still in place, but no soul remains in peace… I hope the Prima Ficus of this season won’t be foretelling of a tempestuous and disastrous fall. 

Bite of the Week

Recipe of the Week: Though figs are divine, they are a bit too sweet for me, so I always seek recipes which balance their sweetness. This fig & lemon jam makes use of a copious amount of lemons, almost as much as figs, if not more. It is amazingly simple; you do not even have to peel the figs, though there is a bit of skilled slicing when it comes to the lemons. Wash and cut in half 1.5 kg of purple skinned figs; scrub the skins of 5-6 lemons and slice them very thinly. You can make this process easier by cutting the lemons in half lengthwise first, then slicing into half-moons crosswise; the only thing you have to take care is your slices have to be as thin as the back of the back of the knife. Place a layer of figs cut side up in a stainless steel preserving pan, sprinkle generously with sugar, add a layer of lemon slices sprinkle with more sugar; continue layering with figs, sugar, lemon slices, sugar again and so on. You should be using about 1 kg of sugar in total, not more. Cover and let stand overnight, or at least for 8-10 hours; or till the juices of the fruits are extracted and sugar mostly dissolved. Place the pan on moderate heat and simmer until it has the consistency of jam. Ladle into clean jars while still hot; close lids tightly, turn jars upside down and let cool. Perfect with cool thick yogurt, cottage cheese or ricotta as a dessert, or for teatime with clotted cream and toast.