Figs are one of the oldest cultivated fruits in the world. Their remains have been found in Neolithic excavations, depicted on Egyptian papyri, and ancient Chinese texts also remind us that it was beneath a wild Fig or Bo tree that Buddha found enlightenment.
The ancient Greeks had the audacity to consider figs as an honorarium bestowed exclusively upon them by the goddess Demeter. Later Romans, urged on by their extravagant Emperor Cato, actually conquered a good bit of the African continent just to maintain a steady fig supply.
Throughout the Dark Ages in Europe, Medieval scientists fancifully imagined fig tree as a sort of natural meat-tenderizer. Both Plutarch and Ariosto cite tales of sacrificed roosters hung upon fig trees that “will presently grow tender and thus fitter for the table”.
This idea likely derives from a elief current at the time that the fig tree “sends forth a hot and sharp vapor“, that is allegedly “digesting” and would “dry and concoct” the flesh. Interestngly, the milky sap of fig leaves is a corrosive folk-curative for warts, so perhaps there’s some science behind this figment after all.
if you possess a wood-fired grill consider using fig leaves as a way to bring intriguing aromas to your barbecue. Try tossing a few fig leaves into the coals beneath a leg of lamb, or swaddling a salmon steak in a fig leaf before placing it over the flames.