Figs – Wisdom from the Middle East

Fig Tree Over Winter Virginia, USA

Fig Tree Over Winter
Virginia, USA

THE FABULOUS FIG
Ficus carica (Moraceae, the Mulberry Family)

Mention figs?  A Lebanese man describes two fig trees growing in his own backyard. His wife talks of harvesting fresh figs in season, making fig jam, and preparing dried figs with rice and nuts in a cooked chicken. A Jordanian praises the garden city of Tafilah, located southwest of Amman, as the “city of figs.” North Americans remember the fig newton cookie, delicious Mission Figs of California, and the story of Adam and Eve wearing fig leaves. The importance of this fruit around the world is not a “fig-ment” of your imagination. Read to the end for some excellent stories and uses of figs.

FIGS IN HISTORY

When the wise and powerful King Solomon lived on the earth, peace and security were benefits his kingdom enjoyed. Describing this time, Old Testament verses in 1 Kings 4:24-25 reference the fig tree, saying that the people “dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, from Dan even to Beer-sheba, all the days of Solomon.” In this instance, the ability to sit under your own fig tree represented tranquility, peace, and safety.

Figs have been widely used and have been an item of trade throughout the Middle East for millennia.  During the summer harvest season, fresh fig is available and is a source of energy and nourishment.  Year-round, dried fig can be made into cakes (1 Chronicles 12:40) and taken on long journeys. In the days of King David (father of King Solomon) an Egyptian soldier who had not had any food or water for three days was revived with “a piece of a cake of figs, and two clusters of raisins.”  (1 Samuel 30:12)  How many of us today are still revived by fig cakes or cookies available in the market?

IN THE QUR’AN

Given the prevalence of the fig in Mediterranean countries and throughout the Middle East, it is not surprising that the fig is mentioned in the Qur’an. The Qur’an mentions the Fig in Surat at Teen (Sura 95:1-8, Zidan).

The Fig
In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate
1 By the Fig and the Olive,
2 And the Mount of Sinai,
3 And this City of security!
4 We have indeed created man in the best of moulds,
5 Then do We abase him (To be) the lowest of the low,
6 Except such as believe and do righteous deeds: For they shall have a reward unfailing.
7 Then what can, after this, contradict thee, as to the Judgment (To come)?
8 Is not God the wisest of Judges?

In this verse, the fig tree is an important symbol, along with the olive, Mount Sinai (where Moses received the Ten Commandments), and the city of Mecca.

Those interested in creating a Qur’anic garden, a special garden showcasing plants mentioned in the Qur’an, would surely want to include the beautiful Ficus carica, or fig tree.

ON YOUR TABLE

Enjoy a simple way of incorporating figs into your diet! Start with 12 fresh figs and the juice of 6 oranges. Cut the stalks off of 12 fresh figs (do not peel).  Then, quarter the figs and arrange them on a dish. Cover the figs with orange juice and chill in the refrigerator before serving. (Adapted from Middle Eastern Cooking by Christine Osborn, pg. 138)

FACT OR “FIG-TION”

Figs are a good source of dietary fiber.  They contain calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, B vitamins, and vitamin K. Doesn’t this sound like a healthy snack? Go “fig-ure.” Let’s appreciate together the many ways figs are used in the Middle East and blend some of this wisdom into our own kitchens!

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