By Harold McGee
Figs are the fruits of Ficus carica, a tree native to the Mediterranean and Middle East, and a relative of the mulberry. Because like the date they readily dry in the sun to a long-keeping, concentrated source of nourishment, they have been an important human food for many thousands of years. The fig is the fruit mentioned most often in the Bible, and was said to grow in the Garden of Eden. Spanish explorers brought it to the Americas via Mexico, and it now grows in many dry subtropical regions. There are many varieties, some green-skinned and some purple, some with bright red interiors. Ripe fresh figs are 80% water, very fragile and perishable. The vast bulk of the world crop is preserved by drying, a process that normally begins on the tree and then concludes on the orchard floor or in mechanical dryers.