Figs are one of the oldest cultivated fruits in the world. Their remains have been found in Neolithic excavations, they ae depicted on Egyptian papyri, and ancient Chinese texts claim that it was beneath a wild Fig (Bo) tree that the Buddha found enlightenment.
Ancient Greeks considered figs to be a gift of the goddess Demeter, while the later Romans, urged on by their Emperor Cato (an early farm-to-table advocate) conquored much of Africa in order to maintain a steady supply of the fruit.
Medieval scholars had some interesting conceits about figs. Both Plutarch and Ariosto speak of hanging slaughtered roosters upon fig trees as a way to make them “grow tender and fitter for the table”. The notion was that the fig tree sent forth a “hot and sharp vapor“ with the capacity to “dry and concoct” flesh.
Then there was the popular form of Medeival divination known as Sycomancy. Here the fig tree was used as a sort of living Oracle. Guidance seekers would inscribe their chosen course of action upon notes wrapped up within fig leaves. Leaves that withered quickly urged one’s forbearance. Leaves remaining green and moist urged present action.
Clever tips in fig cookery include tossing a few leaves directly onto the hot coals of a wood-fired barbecue in order to lend grilled meats (such as lamb) a delightful aroma. Salmon fillets can also be swaddled in fig leaves before being placed on the grill.