The fig tree and its place in the Italian tradition and culture

Mar 25, 2015 9046

by Cookie Curci

The Italian culture and tradition has many old world beliefs that are followed today among Italian American families. One of the most interesting of Our Grandparents'culture showed itseld in their prolific gardens, gardens that always told a story of the area they left behind, wheater they came from the costal areas or deeper into the landscape of the mountainous regeions Italy.

For instance , if they use fish for firtalizine you can pretty much bet they came from Italy's coastline. Where fish products were plentiful...If they grew lots of herbs that required plenty of sunshine, then you knew they came from an area that was warm , hot, and sunny. And if they made their own compost from leaves and kitchen scraps, they came from a poorer section where they had to learn to make do with what they had.

Every dililctes of Itlaian tells a story in their garden, the trees they grow, the plants , everything from fava fava beans to musard greens there is a reason for their existence in your grandpaarents old world garden...

Most all of us remember our Papa or nonna's wonderfully kept bacyard garden. The peppers and tomatoes were plentiful to be sure,... but in every backyard there was, and still is, the always present fig tree. Whether it be the common brown turkey fig or the Italian everbearing fig tree.

Having a fig tree just seem to be the natuaral scheme of things. I was always told it was good luck for the family to have one growing in the yard and producing figs...my grandma said she was sitting under her family fig tree when my grandpa asked her to marry him! And soon after she was sitting uner the same tree when she told her young husband they were expecting their first child...

When I lived in the same family home with my grandparents. I remember learning many lessons from them... I learned the wisdom of patients and to appreciate the little things in life. I remember how content they were, the two of them, to just to sit together on an old pine bench under the shade of their favorite fig tree; how patiently they sat there peeling the delicate skin from a soft, ripe, fig, and how reverently they savored its sweet fruit. I remember how they spoke to one another in quiet tones we couldn't hear and for those few minutes they were the only two people in the world.

The fig tree has been around since the earliest recorded history. It's fruit has been a staple for the richest and poorest of populations. The treee itself has always been a symbol of abundance, fertility and sweetness. I guess that's why so many of the Italian immigrants were sure to plant the fig tree first , before any other in their garden...The fig tree is part of the Moraceae family along with mulberries, and its common name is Fig in English, Higo in Spanish, Figue in French, Feige in German and Fico in Italian.


The fruit of the fig tree are the seeds within inverted flowers. The fig tree typically grows between 10 to 30 feet tall, but can grow as tall as 50 feet. Their abundance of leaves and fruit make them great shade trees as little sun passes through their branches. They need plenty of room around them due to their size and their root system will travel beyond the reach of the branches. As of 2010, a wild fig tree in South Africa holds the record for the deepest tree roots amongst all trees with roots reaching down 400 feet.


Care


Fig trees require a fair amount of water and full sunlight to ripen the fruit of the tree. Insufficient water will cause the leaves to turn yellow and fall off. Though they require full sun, the bark is sensitive to excessive heat and may require a whitewash if exposed. Pruning is only required during the first few years of the tree's life, and heavy winter pruning can result in a loss of fruit production. Pests are attracted to either the roots or the fruit, so some pest control is required including keeping the ground clear of fallen fruit.


History


The fig most likely originated in Asia Minor. The fig tree was first recorded on the tablets of Lagash in 2738-2371 BC and it appears in ancient Greek and Egyptian records. It was first cultivated in India in the 14th century, and is now grown worldwide. The fig appears throughout the Bible beginning with Adam and Eve, who used fig leaves to cover themselves.


Health Benefits


Figs are higher in fiber than any other common fruit or vegetable, and they also contain iron, calcium and potassium. Figs are a natural mild laxative and have been used as such since the Ancient Egyptians. The fruit has also been used as a mouth cleaner and to relieve chest congestion. The black fig pulp has been used as an ingredient in facial masks to tighten the skin. The juice from the leaves has been used on insect bites and stings, corns and warts. External use of the juice is not recommended for everyone as sensitive skin can develop ulcerations.


Miscellaneous Facts


Fig trees are very adaptable as demonstrated in the dense Philippines rain forests where the fruit grows off the trunk instead of the branches. Figs have been used as a coffee substitute, and, due to its high alkalinity, it is eaten as an aid to those who wish to quit smoking. The fig was first used in a commercial product in 1892 in Fig Newtons cookies.

The name Paradiso Fig originated from a tale about an old man in Italy that sat under his fig tree every morning eating figs and bread for breakfast. People passing would ask him if he was alright and his reply was, "This is my Paradise (Paradiso)." Genova Fig originates from the Northern Mediterranean, in Genova City. This plant yields an abundant amount of large fruit. The first crop is a fist size fruit, long shaped with white/golden skin and pink flesh. It is very sweet and juicy. Leaves are shaped like the palm of a hand. This plant bears two crops in August and September, Lowest zone is 5 and 6.

Fig trees are very adaptable as demonstrated in the dense Philippines rain forests where the fruit grows off the trunk instead of the branches. Figs have been used as a coffee substitute, and, due to its high alkalinity, it is eaten as an aid to those who wish to quit smoking. The fig was first used in a commercial product in 1892 in Fig Newtons cookies.

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