Fresh figs from the farmers' market brought back sweet memories of fig picking. Different kinds of figs (fichi) ripen at different times during the summer, so when I was in Italy, summer was a season of continuous fig eating. I remember neighbors arriving at the house in my dad's village with baskets lined with fig leaves, full of sweet-smelling fruit: they never lasted long. My mother would spread peeled figs over slices of bread for a nutritious snack for me and my brother and I have been doing the same for my husband.
The summer bounty gets stashed away in the form of marmellata di fichi (fig jam) and above all fichi secchi (dried figs), which are then eaten as is, or used to make desserts like pan pepato, panciallo, the famous Sicilian buccellato and countless others.
In my home region of Umbria, the town of Amelia is famous for Fichi Girotti, dried figs stuffed with candied fruit (canditi), toasted almonds (mandorle), walnuts (noci) and cocoa (cacao). The figs are pressed into small round bricks (called rotelle), which are then broken apart to eat the heavenly morsels. The only problem with figs is that it is difficult to stop eating them once you start.
In Calabria (southern Italy), ripe figs are baked and then made into balls called palloni di fichi. Each pallone comprises 20-25 figs (there is a nice photo on this page). Dried figs are assembled in other ways as well, like crosses (crocette) and braids (trecce). In Sicily they are strung together using twine or reeds.
Two common expressions make use of figs and have correspondents in English:
- if something is not worth a fig, then non vale un fico secco
- if you don't give (or care) a fig about something, you say: non me ne importa un fico secco.