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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Happy Fig Newton Day!

It's Fig Newton Day! If you popped on in because you have this uncontrollable urge to know every crumb about the history of "the Fig Newton", stroll on over to the food time line. Lynne has you covered. Figure it this way, Fig Newtons have been around for at least 120 years, urban legends are bound to mount.

Fig Newton Day | January 16th

As soon as I realized it was National Fig Newton Day, I knew exactly what I wanted to post about. (that, doesn't happen often:) What is it that brings such glee to this frigid day in central Pennsylvania? Italian Fig Cookies, that's what. Now, don't get to jovial, I have no intention of actually baking them. I just want to share a few crumbs and be on my way.

Baking cucidati, as my grandmother use to say, was a tradition in our family when I was but a youngster. If we were really lucky, we were treated to these scrumptious Sicilian fig-filled pastries twice a year; Christmas and St. Joseph's Day; March 19th. (We also had Sfringes on St. Joseph's Day (St. Joseph's Day Cream Puffs) but that's a post for March. I haven't enjoyed the soft fig mixture concealed in a delicate covering of rich sugared pastry sprinkled with a shimmering glaze of anise flavored icing, in more years than I care to remember. I do however, tremble in delight at the thought of those tender crisp cookies as I write this post. Oh goodness:)

As is the case in many recipes passed down from generation to generation, everyone has a different take on the ingredients that embody the makings of classic Italian Fig Cookies. The preparation can be rather labor intensive, there's lots of rolling and cutting, but using a food processor certainly makes the combining of the fig paste much easier. My grandmother used a meat grinder to blend the fig paste. I don't think a blender would work. Marie, The Proud Italian Cook has a delectable recipe over at her place where she shares her family tradition.

Now just because I mentioned these fig cookies were holiday treats that doesn't mean they can't be enjoyed all year round. They make great snacks for school and office and since the concentration of sweetness is all bundled up in mouth size bites, you can almost always expect a welcome burst of energy. Toss the energy drinks, pot the tea and try one of these tempting recipes.



Italian Fig Cookies

Italian Fig Cookies
½ cup butter, softened
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ tsp. baking soda
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1-3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 recipe Fig Filling (below)
1 recipe Lemon Glaze or powdered sugar (below)

1. Beat butter for 30 seconds. Add sugars and soda. Beat until combined. Beat in egg and vanilla. Beat or stir in flour. Divide dough in half. Cover and chill 3 hours or until easy to handle. Meanwhile, prepare Fig Filling. (see below)

2. On a floured pastry cloth, roll a dough portion at a time into a 10x8 inch rectangle. Cut each rectangle lengthwise in half. Spread Fig Filling lengthwise down the middle of each strip. Using the cloth, lift up one long side of dough; fold it over the filling. Lift up opposite side, fold it to enclose filling. Seal edges. Place seam side down on an ugreased cookie sheet.

3. Bake in 375 degree oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned. Immediately slice strips diagonally into 1-inch pieces. Transfer pieces to a wire rack, let cool. Drizzle with Lemon Glaze (see below) or sift with powdered sugar. Makes about 36 cookies

Fig Filling: In a medium heavy saucepan combine 1 cup dried and chopped figs, stems removed; 2/3 cup raisins, finely chopped, 1/2 cup orange juice, 1/3 cup diced candied fruits and peels, finely chopped; 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, 1 teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel; and 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, 5 to 8 minutes or until fruit is softened and mixture is thick, stirring occasionally. Stir in 1/3 cup blanched almonds, finely chopped. Cool to room temperature.

Lemon Glaze: In a small bowl combine 3/4 cup sifted powdered sugar and enough lemon juice (2 to 3 teaspoons) to make of drizzling consistency.

To Store: Place in layers separated by wax paper in an airtight container; cover. Store in the refrigerator up to 3 days or freeze unglazed cookies up to 3 months. Thaw cookies; glaze. (image & recipe)
Better Homes and Gardens Biggest Book of Cookies © 2003

Cucidati | Fig Cookies

In case you didn't make it over to Lynn's Fig Newton History, here's what John Mariani has to say on the subject in his book The Dictionary of American Food and Drink. (revised ed. 1994) This, of course, is one take on the legend. There are quite a few with assorted facts, inventors and inventions.

...Figs were introduced into America on the island of Hispaniola in 1520 by the Spaniards, and the Mission fig owes its name to the Spanish missions set up in California in the 1700s...Most of the fig crop goes into making a sweet filling for "Fig Newtons..." The cookie was first produced after Philadelphian James Henry Mitchell developed a machine in 1892 to combine a hollow cookie crust with a jam filling. This machine he brought to the Kennedy Biscuit Works, which tried it out in Cambridgeport, Massachusetts, and the resulting cookie was christened "Newton Cakes," after the nearby Boston suburb of Newton. In 1898 the company combined with others to form the National Biscuit Company (now Nabisco Brands). The most frequently used jam in the cookie was fig, and soon the name became "Fig Newton."

Today may also be International Hot & Spicy Food Day @ Southern Grace. (some say the 20th) And, tomorrow is the birthday of first Lady Michelle Obama!

21 comments:

  1. I've never eaten fresh fig (only the dried once when I was traveling in Turkey) because fig is not available in Indonesia. I wonder how the fresh fig tasted and hope that someday I have a chance to try it.

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  2. I can't tell you how happy, I am to have seen your posting on my blog. It is good to have you back.

    Fig newtons is a reminder of my childhood. I am afraid, my kids might not be willing to taste them. I used to love them. Should try my own.

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  3. My dad's favorite, Louise! He loved them. Wish I had seen a recipe for these years ago. Someone online has a recipe for fig newton bars....

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  4. This post makes me very happy, Louise! The cookies sounds scrumptious. I could do this!

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  5. Hi Louise! Those Italian Fig Cookies look like the perfect accompaniment to a cup of coffee.

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  6. I was just telling Gretchen it's time for breakfast. Oh, I wish I had those fig cookies in the kitchen!

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  7. I love fig newtons, but I don't make cookies. They just fly off my cooling racks as fast as I put them there - making about300 cookies in one day is the only way to ensure that we have some still in the house 36 hours later. Sad, isn't it?

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  8. nabisco fig newtons are pretty darn good, but they can't even compare to homemade. excellent.
    and hey--thanks for the link love!

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  9. Love those fig cookies ! :-)
    It is also very healthy...I guess...so why not indulge.

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  10. Oh my gosh, those cookies are fantastic! Thanks for the heads up about the corndog day. I love all the info you have :D

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  11. I had wondered who the eponymous Newton was. I secretly hoped it was Sir Isaac. Thanks for the straight answer. I bet the original Sicilian ones are amazing compared to Nabisco or even to Fig Newmans.

    In _Pomp and Sustenance_ the Sicilian-American food writer Mary Tyler Simetti has a recipe for fig-filled cookies similar to these called Cuddureddi (p. 50). Another good Sicilian cookbook, BTW.

    Best...
    mae of maefood.blogspot.com

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  12. Love fig newton but had no idea ww could make these; thank you for sharing this one; looks great!

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  13. My mom loves fig newtons. I always preferred pie or stuff so rich your teeth fall out.

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  14. Louise, good to see you back...the figs cookies look delicious, and I am sure taste much better than the store bought...look forward to more posts :-)

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  15. Happy new year to all, and best wishes for a successful 2011!

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  16. Fresh figs are difficult to come by in these parts Selba dried figs would work as well. The next time you visit the states or Turkey for that matter, do consider them:) You'll be delighted!

    Thank you so much for you kind words Chaya. It sure is GREAT to be back! You really should try baking some up yourself. Let the kids help. Kids love to nibble on their own baking creations!

    I didn't want to mention it in my post Barbara because it brings back "warm" memories. Sicilian Fig Cookies were my Dad's favorites also. We had two fig trees in our yard when I was growing up. With his care and tenderness, they survived Long Island's cold winters.

    I'm delighted to spread a bit of happiness, T.W. Go for it! and please, do share...

    I don't remember ever having them with coffee Kathy however, I can attest to their goodness with tea! Try them with coffee and let us know:)

    If I weren't so lazy, Channon I would bake some up and send them your way!

    Isn't that what cookies are all about Marjie? I think I have a cookie "monster" around here. As quickly as I bake them is as fast as Marion scoffs them up!

    You're welcome Grace.

    Yes, Sidney as cookies go, I'd say they are pretty healthy and tasty too!

    You're welcome Heather. Hope it helps. BTW, your Cassoulet is beyond gorgeous!

    I was amazed to discover how many people relate the Newton to Sir Issac, Mae. The "real" ones are simply no comparison.

    Try them Rita. They are a bit tedious but ever so worth it and healthy too!

    You may be surprised to know how rich these cookies can be, duckie. I can only eat one or two with a cup of tea. Three with wine:)

    Thanks Juliana. It's GREAT to be back! Your Cinnamon Rolls look heavenly!

    Welcome Rachel. Thanks for visiting!

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  17. I've not seen these cookies before and they sound amazing, I cannot wait to try them, thank goodness for fig newton day so you felt inspired.

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  18. I don't believe I have ever had these home made though I have enjoyed a commercial type of them - lucky you to have a grandmother to bake them for you

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  19. Hi Louise, thank you for stopping by my blog the other day and leaving your very nice comment. I remember Fig Newton's growing up and actually were one of my favorite cookies, though not my sisters'. This recipe sounds so good! But what are candied fruits and peels? I've never heard of them. I hope to find time to try this recipe, and will tell my kids the history too!

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  20. You really should try them OysterCulture. Not only are they delicious they're good for you too!!!

    My grandmother is long gone Johanna but the memory lives on. I'm thinking Sylvia would enjoy them too. My grandkids LOVE them!

    Hi Lin Ann! Thanks for dropping by. I've actually omitted the candied fruit at times if there weren't on hand. Candied fruits are the sweets used in fruitcake. You may know them as Glacé fruit. I know for sure the cookies taste just as good minus the candied fruit. (Some people actually like them more without them) Here's a quick link that tells you how to make them. And here's an image. Do give them a try LinAnn. Home made Fig Newtons are much better than the commercial variety and economical too!!!

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  21. Thank you, Louise, for the links. Printed recipe and sounds like a fun weekend project!

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Through this wide opened gate,
none came too early,
none returned too late.

Thanks for dropping in...Louise