Thursday, October 21, 2010

Consider figs in Frankfurt


Ah, it is lovely to be back in New York again....

Don't get me wrong, I love to travel and would never forsake a trip to a new place for anything, but I have heard that one of the pluses of traveling is that it makes you appreciate home that much more.

The past two weeks have been quite the whirlwind. I think I've slept in my bed 3 times in the past three weeks. Granted, it has been almost entirely of my own making, and while my Sleepy Bear is probably a bit mad a me, it's been completely worth it.

The Frankfurt Book Fair is always an intellectual rush. To be at the center of the international publishing scene and hear what's happening in countries all over the world is such a thrilling sensation--it always serves to remind me why I am doing this. Unfortunately, it is not a huge gastronomical rush. Not to say that I didn't eat well--I stuffed myself each morning with the buffet breakfast and then with heavy schnitzel and beer each evening--but I never found myself trying something new and exciting.

While I was a bit tired of meat and starch by the end of the trip (I always feel like I come down with scurvy a little bit during the fair, between the heavy party food and the pre-packaged convention center food), the buffet breakfast each morning was superb. And it was not as if we were staying in some wildly plush hotel. I have found that breakfasts at most European hotels are excellent. Whereas in the States you'd have some watery coffee, generic brand OJ and some most Eggo waffles served with egg beaters, European continental breakfasts are first rate, even at the hostels.

Cured meats and a variety of egg preparations (soft boiled, hard boiled, scrambled or fried), pastries and bread for toast, seasonal fruit, yogurt and various dried fruits and nuts, muesli, a bevy of cheeses, and my favorite of all, figs.

I am crazy about figs. One time I bough my roommate a fig-scented candle for her birthday just so she'd light it and then the entire apartment would smell like figs. Then she decided to keep it at home in Connecticut. Blast!

But seriously, I think figs are tremendously under utilized and appreciated here in America. It takes a trip overseas or mingling with someone from say, Turkey, to bring out the figs and dates. They're so sticky, delicious and integral to human history.

There is the old biblical story of Jesus himself reviving a fig tree (aka a ficus) and Adam and Eve clothed themselves in fig leaves after eating from the Tree, but the relationship between mankind and figs predates Him by a could thousand years. The fig was one of the first plants that were cultivated by humans. Apparently nine fossilized figs from about 9,400 BC were found in a Neolithic village just outside Jericho, predating the domestication of wheat, barley and legumes, and thus fig cultivation might be the first known sign of agriculture.

So, basically, figs and there awesomeness was what brought us down from the trees...and yet they themselves don't travel very well and are rarely served fresh if not grown locally. They are usually dried (as I had in Frankfurt) or candied and turned into dates. That's ok though, and as my primary fruit source in Germany, I was served quite well nutritionally.

Figs are one of the highest plant sources of calcium and fiber. According to USDA data for the Mission variety, dried figs are richest in fiber, copper, manganese, magnesium, potassium, calcium, and vitamin K, relative to human needs. They have smaller amounts of many other nutrients. Figs hare also a good source of flavonoids and antioxidants.

So what to do about figs gastronomically? You can make fig jam and there are ways to make fig reductions and even cocktails that I can only dream about. Ducks are fed figs to prepare them (and their liver) to be made into foie gras. Yet I have only ever enjoyed figs of my own devices dried or fresh, and even in the early jet lagged mornings of Frankfurt, I don't think I'd have it any other way. After all, 10,000 years+ of perfection is hard to mess with....

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