Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Christmas Sweets and Treats – Figs

Did you know that the fig is one of the first plants to be cultivated by humans. Nine subfossil figs of a parthenocarpic type dating to about 9400–9200 BC were found in the early Neolithic village in the Jordan Valley, north of Jericho. The find pre-dates the domestication of wheat, barley, and legumes, and may be the first known instance of agriculture.
The fig was such a staple food that Egyptian armies are recorded as having cut down the figs and vines of their enemies, and whole baskets of figs have been discovered among the tomb offerings of dynastic Pharaohs. Cleopatra ended her life with an asp brought to her in a basket of figs.

Figs were also a common food source for the Romans. Cato the Elder, in his De Agri Cultura, lists several strains of figs grown at the time. The fruits were used, among other things, to fatten geese for the production of a precursor of foie gras.

The Fig is found throughout the Mediterranean, Iran and northern India, and also in other areas of the world with a similar climate, including the USA, north eastern Mexico, as well as Australia, Chile, and South Africa. Figs can also be found in continental climate with hot summers, as far north as Hungary, and can be picked twice or thrice per year.

In the first half of the 16th century, the fig was brought to England by Cardinal Pole, a few years before Cortez introduced the tree to Mexico. Figgy Pudding – the precursor to what we know know as Christmas pudding – the famous 16th century carol We Wish You A Merry Christmas was written at this time:

We wish you a Merry Christmas;
We wish you a Merry Christmas;
We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Good tidings we bring to you and your kin;
Good tidings for Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Oh, bring us a figgy pudding;
Oh, bring us a figgy pudding;
Oh, bring us a figgy pudding and a cup of good cheer
We won't go until we get some;
We won't go until we get some;
We won't go until we get some, so bring some out here
We wish you a Merry Christmas;
We wish you a Merry Christmas;
We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.


Figgy Pudding

½ pint milk
8oz flour
6oz dried figs
¼ pint brandy
4oz suet
4oz prunes
3oz raisins or sultanas
2oz dried apricots
2oz dates
1oz dried apples
1 tbsp honey
¼ tsp ginger
¼ tsp cinnamon

On the day before making the pudding, place the dried apricots, prunes and apples to soak in water and place the raisins or sultanas to soak in the brandy. Remove the stones from of the dates and prunes. Butter a large pudding basin. Sift flour into a bowl. Stir in suet and mix to a fairly soft dough with cold water. Turn out on to a floured surface. Lightly knead until smooth.

Roll out two-thirds of pastry into a round and use to line a well-greased 2-pint pudding basin. Melt the honey and stir in the ginger and cinnamon. Add to the soaked fruits and brandy mixture. Mix well and place into the pastry lined bowl. Moisten edges of pastry with water. Cover with lid, rolled from remainder of the pastry. Press edges well together to seal. Cover securely with greased greaseproof paper or aluminium foil. Steam steadily for 2 hours. Ensure that the water does not evaporate, topping it up from time to time with boiling water. Turn out onto a plate and serve

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