Some food can make you nostalgic almost immediately. Even the slightest whiff of aroma is enough to stir up memories of people and places. And of all things, figs unleash a wave of memories for me.
Just the sight of them takes me back to that wide field surrounded by tall mountains, far away in Manipur. And of course, my late paternal grandfather who encouraged me to climb a fig tree that grew wild in his farm. Sitting atop the branch, I plucked the ripe ones off the tree that were probably left behind by hungry monkeys who feasted on the sweeter ones. I broke open the ripe fruit and relished it. To this day, the sweet and delicate flavor, and the crunchiness of the seed remain new and vivid in my mind.
In Manipur and other parts of the Northeastern region, fig trees grow wild and randomly in fields. In season, local markets are full of figs that are sold at throw-away price. What do people do with so many figs? When they have had enough of the fruit, they make wine out of it. Yes, fig wine may be unheard of, but in Manipur it is extremely common with the Paite community. Also known as Theipi Zu, fig wine is easy to prepare and has a sweet taste which is very similar to that of Sherry or other sweet wine.
Since the fruit is available in plenty, it becomes part of a person's diet at least in the season and so he reaps the benefits of whatever vitamins the fruit has. Incidentally, figs are one of the fruits that are richest in fibre. Some of the others are apples, dates, pears and prunes. No wonder this is such a revered fruit in the region.
Figs are also a rich source of dietary fibre and a cure for those suffering from piles. A close friend who was once diagnosed with Alopecia, a type of hair loss that occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks hair follicles was recommended by her homeopathic doctor to eat figs regularly.
Many trips to the INA market in Delhi with her on a fig hunt actually made me realise the magical healing power of this fruit. It may be a very common seasonal fruit back home but who knew what all it could do! Of course in cities like Delhi, it is hard to get fresh figs so she relied on the sun-dried ones which were squeezed of all their juice. She would soak them in lukewarm water for five minutes until the fruit slowly opened up. The dried one may not be as good as the fresh ones but they are still sweet and the seeds chewy.
Due to its high concentration of fibre, ancient healers use this to cure constipation as it helps in regular bowel functioning. From containing minerals, series of vitamins like A, B1, B2, calcium, iron, phosphorus, manganese, sodium, potassium and chlorine, the health benefits are plenty.
So, how does one eat figs? What's best may be the fresh fruit. As the soft texture combined with the natural sweetness of the fruit and then biting into those multiple small seeds are quite something to enjoy. But since it is not available throughout the year, it is also mostly available sun-dried because that's the only way to preserve the seasonal fruit. And again, like some fruits, it can also be made into a jam. Not to forget, its popular usage in baking sweet savouries or preparing sauces for accompaniments.
The thing with fig is, no two figs that grow in two different parts are ever the same. Since research indicates that there are over 700 different fig trees, none are similar to one another. The fruit varies in shape and size. I have noticed that the ones that I get from the Northeast are reddish in colour and have a rough velvety outer texture when compared with those found in other parts of India. The ones my friends from Dehradun or Nagpur get have smooth outer texture though the flavour is the same.
Another thing with figs is, it also takes me back to my Sunday school classes. Figs also have a huge biblical context. When Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden, they clothed themselves with fig leaves after having eaten that forbidden fruit. As one of the most ancient fruit, fig also has a place of pride and significance to the Romans who regarded it as a sacred fruit. They considered it a symbol of not just fertility but prosperity and peace. That made me wonder if its divine intervention that Buddha must receive his enlightenment under a sacred fig tree. Whatever it may be, do avail all the magical properties of this wonder fruit called fig!
Theipi Zu (Fig Wine)
Ingredients: 5 kg fresh figs 1 kg sugar
Method: 1. Peel the figs and cut each fruit into two. When all are peeled put them into an airtight container which is big enough to accommodate the juice that will ooze out in the course of time. Add sugar. 2. Seal the cover of the container to ensure it is airtight. Leave the container in one corner of the house where there is no sunlight. Store it for seven days. 3. On the eight day, gently open the seal. Stir with a long spoon. You will notice the container is filled with natural juice that oozed out from the fruit. 4. Separate the liquid from the solid with the help of a muslin cloth. Store the juice in a bottle and enjoy. The solid part can also be eaten as it has a sweet flavour.
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