The common fig (Ficus carica)

Figs in September

If you wander around the vines and cherry orchards of the PO in August or September,  you can’t  fail to notice the wild figs ripening on the small trees which grow to a height of 3-10 m tall. The leaves are deciduous.

Thought to be indigenous to western Asia, the edible fig is one of the first plants to have been cultivated by humans. Stone tablets dating back over 4,000 years record the use of figs in southern Iraq and the harvesting of figs is depicted in an Egyptian tomb painting from around 1,900 B.C.

In the Bible, Adam and Eve covered themselves with fig leaves after eating the “Forbidden fruit” from the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil. Likewise, fig leaves, or depictions of fig leaves, have long been used to cover the genitals of nude figures in painting and sculpture. Often these fig leaves were added by art collectors or exhibitors long after the original work was completed. The use of the fig leaf as a protector of modesty or shield of some kind has entered the language.

Fig trees in the Pyrenees-OrientalesFigs were grown in Greece by the eighth century B.C. and taken to Spain, France, Portugal and North Africa with Arab conquests. Later they were spread via European invasions to Central America (sixteenth century), North America (seventeenth century) and Australia (eighteenth century).

Fig leaves have a characteristic sweet-green coconut-like fragrance, perceptible when close up to the sun-warmed trees or when handling the leaves. They have been extracted on a limited scale for perfumery use in Grasse and been described as having a woody, mossy scent. Dried fig leaves release an earthy scent and make good homemade potpourri.

French perfumers created “fig-leaf absolute” a thick, brownish-green liquid giving off a long lasting light woodland fragrance. However, Ifra (The International Fragrance Association) banned it due to its ‘sensitisation and phytotoxicity’ so don’t look out for it in the shops!

Health-wise, figs   are rich in minerals and a good source of potassium, manganese and iron. They also contain vitamins A, B and C and a decent amount of fibre. The leaves of the fig have been shown to have anti-diabetic properties and can actually reduce the amount of insulin needed by diabetics.

Figs must be picked ripe from the tree, as they don’t ripen well once picked A very firm fig is not ripe and will not properly ripen further. They also have a very short shelf life, so you should eat or freeze them within seven to 10 days of harvesting.…. or make them into this delicious and simple fig chutney which will keep for months..


Fig Chutney


☛ 13 – 15 fresh figs ()
☛ 150ml balsamic vinegar
☛ 100ml red wine vinegar
☛ 300g soft brown sugar
☛ zest and juice of 1 lemon
☛ 2 red onions (sliced thinly)
☛ 2 teaspoons mixed spice
☛ 10g fresh grated root ginger, or 1 teaspoon of dried ground ginger
☛ 1 tablespoon of olive oil

☛ Remove the stalk from the figs and cut into quarters..
☛ Heat the oil in a large pan over a medium heat and fry the onion for 5 minutes until soft and slightly caramelised.
☛ Add all the other ingredients to the pan except for the figs, season with salt & pepper, bring to the boil, and simmer for 30 minutes.
☛ Once the liquid has reduced to syrup, add the figs and cook for a further 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
☛ Pour into sterilised jars, and allow cooling.

Figs in French Market


After harvesting, figs have a short life. Keep in the refrigerator and use within a day or two.


Wash them, towel them dry and store them in the freezer in zip-locked bags or trays to prevent them from getting squashed. Best frozen whole


Chose figs that are richly coloured, plump and soft but with unbroken skins. At peak ripeness they may be covered with a light, fuzzy bloom. A sour smell indicates figs that are past their best.


Wipe with a damp kitchen towel. If the stem end is hard, cut it off. To show figs at their best, halve them or cut a cross in the top and press your finger in to splay them out.



Roast figsRoast Figs with Cinnamon, Thyme and Honey

Serves: 6
Level of difficulty: Easy
Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 20 minutes, plus standing

3 tbsp clear honey, such as orange blossom or acacia
walnut-sized knob of Butter
1 tbsp orange liqueur
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
12 ripe figs
1 tsp Thyme


1. Preheat the oven to 190°C/gas 5.
2. Put the honey, butter, liqueur and cinnamon in a small saucepan. Heat gently, stirring, until liquid.
3. Using a small, sharp knife, make a cut like a cross in the top of each fig, cutting almost down to the base.
4. Place them upright in a roasting pan, splaying them out shamelessly as you go. Pour the liquid over each one. Roast for 15 minutes.
5. Sprinkle a bit of thyme over each fig. Return to the oven, switch it off, leaving the door ajar. Leave the figs in the oven for 5-10 minutes before serving.


Lamb with Figs

Serves 4

450g/1 lb Fresh figs
900g/2 lb Breast of Lamb
1 Large Onion, chopped
4 tbsp Oil
1 tbsp Plain Flour
300ml/10 fl.oz Dry White Wine
Salt & Pepper


1. Cut the lamb into 5cm/2 inch pieces. Heat the oil in a flameproof casserole and brown the meat well on all sides. Add the onion and cook until golden.
2. Sprinkle the flour over the meat and onions and cook over a high heat until the four begins to brown then gradually stir in the wine, little by little and bring to the boil.
3. Reduce the heat, add the whole figs and season with salt and pepper. Stir gently.
4. Cover and simmer for about 1 hour or until lamb is tender, stirring from time to time. Serve hot


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