about a year ago, i bought a little fig tree cutting from a local growers' market. i was surprised to see it there, because i didn't think figs grew in tropical places, mainly because i never saw fresh figs in the market, nor any recipes utilizing them. the grower really didn't know anything about it, except that he had always had trees on his family's land; however, he had never actually tried the fruit, and wasn't sure if it was the same as any of the varieties sold in mainland markets or if it was some sort of asian variation.
so, i took it to my parents' house and my dad planted it in the backyard. i didn't hold much hope for it, but it grew steadily, and even managed to produce a couple of fruit sporadically over the next couple of months. i didn't really think about it much, but lately i've realized that in the past year, the tree is now over ten feet tall, and is finally yielding enough fruit to actually use in a recipe. whee! i figured it was time to actually look up what kind of fig tree it is.
i still don't know, but found another surprise: fig trees--Ficus carica--are believed to be native to western asia, distantly related to breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis Fosb.); jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus Lam.); and chinese mulberry (Cudrania tricuspidata). it is a deciduous tree that is typically ten to 30 feet in height, but can grow up to 50 feet. the branches are soft, twisty and vine-like, spreading wide rather than tall. the leaves are bright green, fuzzy, have an easily recognizable shape and grow out to nearly a foot in length. the fruit has a thin peel of varying colours (from green to dark purple), with and interior white rind holding in a mass of gelatinous seeds. they must be left to ripen on the tree, but once picked they only last for a few days.
perhaps this fragility, along with the fact that there aren't many birds on island to spread the seed are the reason why i haven't seen them before, but i'm still surprised i haven't seen it as an ingredient in asian recipes. perhaps a little more research is in order.....