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Greek figs are generally small, varying in size depending on the variety, and have a round, bulbous base that tapers to a narrow neck on the stem end. The smooth, taut skin ranges in color from blue-purple, appearing almost black, to hues of red-green, red-yellow, to green with faint stripes. Underneath the thin skin, the flesh ranges in color from white, pink, red, to yellow and has a chewy, sticky consistency with many small, edible crunchy seeds. With maturity, the skin may crack at the eye or base of the fig, forming a small opening into the flesh. Greek figs have a soft and crisp texture and are generally sweet with a honeyed flavor.
Greek figs are available in mid-summer through late fall.
Greek figs, botanically classified as Ficus carica, grow on wide-spreading, evergreen trees that belong to the Moraceae or mulberry family. Cultivating and selectively breeding figs since ancient times, Greece is one of the largest producers of figs in the world and grows the small fruits for both fresh consumption and commercial processing. It is believed that approximately half of the production is sold domestically, while the other half is exported to Germany and the United States in the form of dried figs, jams, and pastes. There are many different varieties of figs that are found under the Greek fig label, including Black figs, Royal figs, and Red figs, with many of these types being localized to very specific growing regions across Greece. Though Greek figs vary in color, size, and flavor, they are well-known and respected throughout the country and are commonly found growing along borders of grape, olive, and almond orchards, in city parks, in home gardens, courtyards, and along property lines.
Greek figs are an excellent source of potassium, which can help reduce high blood pressure, are high in fiber which can stimulate digestion, and are a highly alkaline food, which helps balance pH levels within the body. The figs also contain calcium, iron, magnesium, vitamins A and B1, manganese, phosphorus, and are a good source of antioxidants to boost the strength of the immune system.
Greek figs are best suited for raw applications as their chewy, crisp texture and sweet flavor are showcased when consumed fresh out-of-hand. Both the skin and flesh are edible, and the figs can be sliced in half and tossed into salads, stuffed with spices or nuts and covered in honey, sliced over cereal, yogurt, oatmeal, ice cream, and tarts, used as flavoring in baked goods, or dipped in chocolate and served as a sweet dessert. Greek figs can also be cooked into jams and preserves, mixed into pasta, or dried for extended use. In Greece, figs are popularly used in sykomaitha, which is a flattened cake of fennel, figs, and walnuts wrapped in a fig leaf and baked. Figs are also used in syka gemista, which is figs stuffed with nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and walnuts, typically served over custard or ice cream. Greek figs pair well with cheeses such as fromage blanc, blue, ricotta, and mascarpone, cured meats such as salami and prosciutto, fruits such as peaches and pears, arugula, dark chocolate, and nuts such as pistachios, pine nuts, walnuts, and almonds. Fresh figs will keep 2-3 days when stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. When dried, figs will keep 6-12 months when stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry, and dark place.
Ancient Greeks believed figs symbolized prosperity and peace and were especially valued in the region known as Attica which was located on a peninsula in eastern Greece. The ruler of Attica, Solon, also recognized the worth of the fig and even deemed it illegal to export figs outside of Greece in order to reserve the sweet fruits for the local population. In modern day, the region of Attica is still known for its fig cultivation, and Markopoulo Mesogaias is a town within the region that is most famous for its fresh figs. In Markopoulo, some royal fig varieties were given a protected geographical indication or PGI in 1996 by the European Union, which is a mark that is given when the fig’s quality is dependent on climate or unique growing practices that are attributed to a specific growing region. PGI labels have become a mark of quality and assurance to the consumer that the flavor of the item is not compromised.
Figs are believed to be native to Asia minor and were introduced to Greece from Egypt around the 9th century BCE. As cultivation of the fig began in Greece, many different varieties were developed from years of selective breeding and were quickly spread across the country. Today Greek figs are widely cultivated across Greece with notable areas including Evia, Markopoulo, and Kalamata, and the figs are found fresh at local markets and dried for sale through grocers and online retailers.
People have shared Greek Figs using the Specialty Produce app for iPhone and Android.
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