Tuesday, April 6, 2010


In the Book of Genesis in the Bible, Adam and Eve clad themselves with fig leaves after eating the "forbidden fruit" from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. It has become custom for depictions of fig leaves to cover the genitals of nude figures in painting and sculpture. Interestingly, although commonly referred to as a fruit, the fig fruit is actually the flower of the tree, known as an inflorescence (an arrangement of multiple flowers - a false fruit or multiple fruit. In this inflorescence (love this term!), the flowers and seeds grow together to form a single mass. Since the flower is invisible, in India (where Ficus bengalensis is the National Tree of India), there is an idiom which goes, "tumi jeno dumurer phool hoe gele", or "you have become (invisible like) the demur flower."

So, as in human culture,  in my life figs have developed a history.

During my paripatetic 20's, I travelled fairly extensively in India.  And although previously my life experiences were limited by growing up in small-town Maine, and my travel experiences were only as exotic as Europe, my first foray to the East rung remarkably familiar.  The assault on the senses that so many visitors find unnerving to me felt, somehow, calming... Oddly,  while in India, though their national tree is the fig,  I never had a fig...never even SAW one.

After medical school, marriage, and Target "life styling" our world, figs became suddenly simultaneouly unavoidable and elusive.  The color of the first suit my husband bought me was described by the designer as "fig."  The first perfume I purchased for my husband from my favorite perfumerie in NYC is a scent of fig.  Though fig had become an adjective in our new world together, fig is, technically neither a color nor a fragrance...but a thing.  My husband and I decided to expand the trend of misusing the word, and soon "fig"  became our metaphorical code word for "true love." "Fig" represented for us the incomprehensible, the expression of love in the ether...beyond mortal expression of such simple things as color and scent. It was the "42" of the Hitchhiker's Guide, the answer that says, "beyond."  My life until then had been motivated by the fig of the "forbidden fruit" variety, but with marriage I discovered the complex inflorescence of the more lovely, and mysteriously fragrant notes of love.

In New Orleans, I had my first experience with real figs.  Living there, my husband and I enjoyed a garden full of subtropical flora. In our small garden, I grew heirloom roses, night-blooming jasmine which perfumed the air which blew in through our bedroom window, merliton vines, and the largest passion-flower vine in all of uptown. Pecans and figs littered our lawn, buried by a blanket of large magnolia leaves. It was in Louisiana, one of the few American regions capable of growing magnificent figs, that I cultivated both a horticultural and a culinary taste for figs.

   This Christmas, my sister-in-law unwittingly gave me a gift more meaningful than she could have imagined. She is a foodie and she, knowing my love for figs (but not knowing the significance of figs in my life), gifted these handmade succulent wine-poached figs.  Ironically, her gift of figs to me was reflected by my knit gift to her. Using the simplest of patterns (CO 50, knit in garter stitch using US 17 needles), I knit her a scarf.  I purchased a skein of Karabella Gossamer in Mulberry because I loved the color combination of red and orange. I initially purchased it because I though it would be a great Christmas red, but when we got together we had a "You put your chocolate in my peanut-butter, no you put your peanut-butter on my chocolate" moment...it was FIG!
Rich and crimson with golden glistening interior highlights reminiscent of the tiny orange seeds which fleck the fig's moist rosy interior.

So, all that leads up to this:  The simplest pattern with the most beautiful yarn in the right recipient hands becomes (in all its wonderful layered meanings)..."Fig"


1 1/2 cups dry red wine
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2 whole cloves
6 dried Calimyrna figs (about 1/4 pound), halved lengthwise

Preparation:  In a 1 1/2-quart saucepan combine all ingredients and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Simmer figs, covered, until tender, about 30 minutes.

Transfer figs with a slotted spoon to a bowl and boil syrup until reduced to about 1/4 cup. Strain syrup through a fine sieve into another bowl. Add syrup to figs and cool to warm.

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