EphemeraFeatures

Know Your Figgy Facts

By on August 6, 2013 12:30pm EST

California FigsFigs. I’m a newish fan. I once thought them unlovable with their bruise-colored skins and their frumpy lumpishness. I deemed Fig Newtons fit only for the dentures crowd. Actually, I still think Fig Newtons are lip-curlers. But I can’t get enough of the real thing now that I’ve parted with the blithe ignorance of youth. If you’re a fig lover like me, this is your season. Figs are the heavily-perfumed, fat-bottomed, plentiful trollops of summer produce, ripe to excess and drunkenly tumbling down the alleys and aisles of your local farmers’ markets, oozing sweetness and sometimes coruscating with sugary glitter. I’ve lost many dollar bills to them already. It’s a problem.

Because of their commonness, we may callously and frantically hurry these perishing-by-the-second treats into our mouths–slathered in goat cheese, decked out in prosciutto–without bothering to consider what it is we’re eating.

First! The Earliest Cultivated Fruit

And that means you're out. Auf Wiedersehen.

And that means you’re out. Auf Wiedersehen.

Not only did the fig become man’s first fashion statement when Adam and Eve took a Project Runway approach to modesty by sewing themselves some aprons from the tree’s leaves; the fig was also first in our experiments with agriculture as one of the earliest known cultivated food crops. They may even have predated the cultivation of grains and legumes.

Darwinism would’ve nipped me in the bud had I been around in the time of my Stone Age ancestors, unable to escape the Neolithic fad diet, discovering that I could grow candy by stabbing a stick into the ground. I would have overdosed on the fruit to terrible effect. Which brings us to our next fact…

Nature’s Gift to the Constipated

Fig-flavored Ex-Lax. No joke.

Fig-flavored Ex-Lax. No joke.

Feeling a touch…irregular? Grab some figs and a good book because, contrary to Ex-Lax’s claims, nature didn’t forget after all.

Figs join the likes of prunes and that second cup of coffee in their ability to power you through a morning movement. And would you really want to be caught chugging a glass of prune juice in your office? Awkward.

With figs, you get all the benefits of a natural laxative without the whispering wind of clever incontinence jokes flurrying between the cubicles. A wholly nutritious food, figs are a good source of dietary fiber, particularly when dried.

Fruit-Lying Flower Receptacles

Fig Scientific IllustrationWe call figs fruits but they’re actually the hollow end stem of the fig tree, called the syconium. The syconium is also where the tree’s flowers bloom and where its seeds are born. So while the fig is a flowering tree, the flowers aren’t visible because they bloom within a delicious incubator. The flowers are fertilized and the seeds come into being after one of nature’s niche specialists, the fig wasp, enters the fruit through that bellybutton hole at its bottom.

Want to hear something gross? The fig wasp lays its eggs inside the fruit. Don’t chuck your basket of figs across the room yet! We only eat the edible female seed-producing figs, which are not hospitable to egg-laying. So stop freaking out–you’re probably only eating a digested female wasp with your fig.

But let’s not think about that. Instead, the next time you bite into one of these historically important, healthful, scientifically intriguing fruits, remember that you’re basically getting a mouthful of flowers. As if the fig wasn’t sexy enough.

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S Zainab Williams

S. Zainab Williams is a writer, author of graphic novel Beatrice is Dead, and blogger at szainabwilliams.com. She likes fava beans and a nice Chianti but can't figure out what protein to pair them with. Follow her on Twitter: @szainabwilliams.

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  • Insatiable Booksluts

    I love figs about a million times more now. Thank you.

    • sharifahwilliams

      No prob! :)

  • Bob Bires

    Wonderful article. It sent me on a google search to find out why my figs aren’t ripening. I use figs to make jam. Here in the south, elderly women like to eat it out of the jar like dessert ( which I guess it is, given how much sugar is in it). Nice work.

    • sharifahwilliams

      I would eat fig jam out of the jar in a heartbeat.

  • Dana Staves

    Okay, this was awesome. Thank you for describing a fruit as fat-bottomed. I love figs, but I’m like you – I came to this only in the past year or two. But now that I love them, I’m all up on fig jam every year. Kind of want some right now, actually. :)

    • sharifahwilliams

      I do get a kick out of fruit personifications. :P Get out there and eat some figs, but be warned–I had to cut myself off because I couldn’t stop once I started.

  • http://heidenkind.blogspot.com/ Tasha B. (heidenkind)

    Fun! Have you tried fig jam? It’s awesome.

    • sharifahwilliams

      I have and it is glorious! Especially with soft cheese. Now I’m hungry.