The famous Roman statesman and writer Cato the Elder –author of De Agri Cultura in which he described a bread called: Mustaceus, find more about it here– persuaded Rome to go to war “over some figs”.
Seems like Cato feared that the Phoenician colony was becoming a threat to the Roman trade of African products and as proof of it he presented the senate with a bunch of large ripe figs claiming they had been brought from Carthage. Apparently this was enough to instigate the senate to take military action against the Phoenicians… and yet again Rome went to war in what became known as the Tertium Bellum Punicum or Third Punic war (149–146 BC). The word punicum means phoenecian in Latin.
Figs (Ficus sycomorus) have been present in religious, medicinal and gastronomic texts and oral traditions for millennia. They were first domesticated in south west Asia and the Mediterranean area and there are more than 800 cultivars and species that go from vines to shrubs, trees and bushes.
Gastronomically speaking, figs are mostly used as part of sweet dishes, breads, tarts, compotes and jams.
Dried, roasted or fresh they are often presented and regarded as a luxury, an exotic and delicate fruit worthy of a special place at the table.
There is a very interesting article on the history of figs –read it here– by Dr Iona McCleery, head of “You are what you ate” a research project from the University of Leeds’s History Department.
To celebrate figs (and pecans) read a bit more about them below, I hereby share my fig tart recipe, it is simple, fresh and guaranteed to be a nice pièce de résistance!
To razzle and dazzle without much fuss, you will need:
- 250g flour
- 200 g sugar
- 50g chopped pecans
- 2 eggs
- 3tbsp milk
- 120ml rapeseed oil
- 120ml natural yoghurt
- 2tsp baking powder
- 9-10 medium almost ripe figs, sliced
- 3 tbsp agave syrup
Preheat the oven at 180C
Bring them together with a spoon or spatula and transfer to a well greased and dusted tart mould.
Arrange the figs on the sponge batter in a fan shape begging from the outside and finish the centre with the smallest slices.
Drizzle the figs with the agave syrup to help them cook and gently caramelise.
Bake for 35 minutes at a medium heat. Figs will take a while to cook, if needed move te tart to the top level of your oven but avoid increasing the temperature as it’ll burn the tart’s bottom.
When it’s ready let cool completely before slicing as the figs will be too hot.
Pecans –Carya illinoinensis– are the kind of seeds that we often think they’ve been forever in the western diet, but it wasn’t until the 16th century when Europeans first came in contact with them. Native to North America, pecans were an important source of proteins for Native American communities.
For some curious reason, in contrast to the U.S. , Mexico (where pecans are also native) the gastronomic use of walnuts or “nuez de Castilla” Juglans regia is far more common than the use of pecans.