Lucy's Fig Cookies
Growing up, I hated when my mum packed fig cookies into my lunch box for school. They were an instant trade and if I couldn't find anyone who wanted to trade (rarely did anyone want to!) I threw them out. But Lucy's Fig Cookies aren't like those ones I used to toss away as a child. These are soft and delicious and a great little snack.
Many of us are familiar with Newtons, or Fig Newtons, which are a Nabisco trademarked version of the fig rolls (a pastry filled with fig paste). Their distinctive flat, square-ish shape has been adopted by many competitors, including generic fig bars. Until the late 20th century, many physicians believed that illnesses were mostly related to digestion problems and they recommended a daily intake of fruit and biscuits for fiber. Fig rolls were the ideal solution based on this advice, although they remained a locally produced and handmade product. In 1891 a Philadelphia baker (and fig lover), Charles Roser, invented and patented a machine that inserted fig paste into a thick pastry dough. The Kennedy Biscuit Company, based in Massachusetts, purchased Roser's recipe and started mass production. The first Fig Newtons were baked in the F.A. Kennedy Steam Bakery in 1891 and named “Newton” after the city of Newton, Massachusetts.
The main ingredient in Newtons, or any fig cookie is, of course, the fig which is an Asian species of flowering plants in the mulberry family. This plant is the source of the fruit, also called a fig. Figs are native to the Middle East and western Asia and have been cultivated since ancient times. The edible fig was actually one of the first plants to be cultivated by humans and date back to 9,400-9,200 BCE (sub-fossil figs were found in the early Neolithic village Gilgal I (located in Jordan Valley, just 13 km from Jericho). This find predates even the domestication of wheat, barley and legumes. Figs were a common food source for the Romans and were also used to fatten their geese. Currently Turkey is the leading producer of figs, with around 27% f the world total (274.5 million metric tons annually), although significant production also occurs in North Africa, particularly Egypt Algeria and Morocco.
For Lucy's fig cookie recipe there are two steps. Creating the fig paste and making the dough. This isn't one of those dishes you decide you're going to make and just whip up. The figs need to be soaked in Vanilla rum for 2 days first, to soften them and add an extra layer of flavor. The wait time is well worth it. The soaked figs are then added to walnuts and raisins and blended until finely chopped. The final step is to add this mixture to a pan with sugar and cook until the liquids dry up, creating a paste. This mixture then needs to be set aside and allowed time to cool.
A trick: rather than making individual cookies, spread your dough into a long, thin, flat strip. Spread your fig filling into the center of the dough, close it up and then cut the roll are 2” or so. This will quicken your prep time significantly and allow you to get these into the oven faster so that you can eat them sooner. I love to eat mine warm with a cold glass of milk. How do you enjoy your Lucy's fig cookies?
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