Originally hailing from southern Europe, Asia and Africa, figs were thought to be sacred by the ancients; they were also an early symbol of peace and prosperity. Figs were brought to North America by the Spanish Franciscan missionaries who came to set up Catholic missions in southern California . . . hence the now-popular Mission Fig. There are hundreds of varieties of figs, all having in common a soft flesh with a plentitude of tiny edible seeds. They range in color from purple-black to almost white and in shape from round to oval. The most well-known varieties today include the green-skinned, white-fleshed Adriatic; the pear-shaped, violet- to brown-skinned Brown Turkey; the large, squat white-fleshed, green-skinned Calimyrna (when grown in California) or Smyrna (when from Turkey); the Celeste, medium and pear-shaped, with a purple skin and pinkish pulp; the Kadota, a small, thick-skinned, yellow-green fruit; the Magnolia (also called Brunswick), large, with a pinkish-yellow flesh and amber skin; and the purple-black Mission (or Black Mission), with its extremely small seeds. Fresh figs are available from May through November, depending on the variety. They're extremely perishable and should be used soon after they're purchased. Figs may be stored in the refrigerator for 5 to 7 days. They're also sold candied, dried or canned in sugar syrup or water. Fig concentrate is a thick, syrupy, seedless purée of figs. It's used to flavor cakes and other desserts, as well as for a topping over ice cream, fruit, cake and so on. Fig concentrate can be found in natural food stores and some supermarkets. All figs are a good source of iron, calcium and phosphorus.

From The Food Lover's Companion, Fourth edition by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. Copyright © 2007, 2001, 1995, 1990 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.

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