I recently had the pleasure of attending a very ancient custom that usually characterizes the countryside life during the last weeks of summer. A beautiful tradition that unfortunately, like many others, is disappearing and I believe it should be preserved instead. The collection and drying of the fresh figs for the preparation of fichi cucchiati (literally coupled figs).
Typical product of Southern Italy, the production of figs is strongly linked to the history of the area. To date I do not think there is a piece of land in Puglia where there are no fig trees: in the past figs were considered the “poor man’s bread” and a key part of the diet as they are very rich in sugar. People working in the fields used to carry two or three in their pockets: the figs were a great source of energy and helped dealing with the hard work in the fields. In addition, especially during the Christmas period, they were given to children in the absence of chocolate and candy.
Having grown up in the countryside and having spent so much time with my grandparents, I had the fortune myself of helping my grandmother in the collection and preparation of this delicacy and I still keep great memories about this experience still.
During the summer months people collect the ripe figs before they fall from the tree. At this point, they are cut in half lengthwise without separating the two halves and laid down on the characteristic “cannizzi”, lattice made of reeds, where they are left to dry in the sun, having care of turning them a couple of times a day and withdrawing in the house at night to avoid moisture.
The process of drying the figs terminates when they get a dark brown colour; at this point most of figs were sold to factories for the production of sugar. Another part, however, was preserved and used to prepare the fichi cucchiati (coupled figs).
Their preparation is very simple: a toasted almond is placed in each dried fig along with a hint of lemon zest and fennel. They are closed and baked in the oven at 180 degrees for about 20 minutes. The fichi cucchiati are kept in glass or ceramic container along with some dry leaf of laurel.
A very simple delicacy, like the rest of the cuisine of Puglia…but ultimately…a delicacy.