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Crop of the Week: Figs
• Figs are a relatively minor crop within Yuma County with fewer than 10 acres.
• The origin of figs can be traced back to the region between Asia Minor and India where it is still grown in substantial quantities. This ancient fruit belongs to the genus ficus and is found in a family of plants that includes the mulberry. Figs are one of the earliest fruits known to be cultivated.
• Figs are famous all over the world for their rich and succulent taste. While Turkey is well known for its brown figs, Algeria is the world's largest producer.
• The old trade caravan routes spread figs far and wide, although possibly not as far and wide as the bird population of the world. Birds eat the seeds and through their migration patterns, birds have ensured the survival of figs in new locations.
• In the U.S., Southern California is a large producer and shipper all over North America. These fruits have become so popular in America that many varieties - purplish, brownish and greenish-are grown in abundance.
• Called the “poor man's food” in Mediterranean countries, figs provide calcium, potassium and phosphorus. Dried they are high in iron. When fresh, figs should be eaten while very soft.
• Ants are great pollinators of figs. The base of fig flowers secretes a sugary liquid that attracts ants through a small opening. The ants go in search of the sweetness offered, picking up pollen on their feet. This is brought to the next fruit.
• Many tiny flowers produce the crunchy little seeds that give figs their unique texture.
• Dried figs are chopped and used in cookies or other pastries. Fresh ripe figs are served in Italy with prosciutto or San Daniele ham or eaten out-of-hand. Dried figs can be stewed or made to compote using port wine for an additional taste dimension.
• Figs come in all colors from yellow, brown and red to purple, black and others. The most commonly grown figs, Brown Turkey and Celeste, are a golden yellow when ripe. Figs become soft like a peach when ripe, but they should not be mushy or fall apart.
• Fig Newtons were created in 1891 by the Kennedy Biscuit Works in Cambridgeport, Mass. They had named many of their other cookies for nearby towns, and almost called it the “Fig Shrewsbury” before the town of Newton won out.
• The man who originated the Fig Newton, Charles Roser put his cookie recipe to work in his factory in Kenton, Ohio, and sold out to Nabisco in 1910. Fig Newtons were one of the first commercially baked products in America. This cookie is the third-most popular cookie in the U.S., with more than 1 billion consumed each year.
Source: Kurt Nolte is an agriculture agent and Yuma County Cooperative Extension director. He can be reached at email@example.com or 726-3904.