The Fig Newton was invented in 1891 by a baker who was trying to address the concern of many physicians who believed that most illnesses were related to digestion problems. To help with that, they recommended a daily intake of biscuits and fruit. It was baker and inventor Charles Roser who invented a machine that would roll out a fine pastry dough and allow a fruit paste to be inserted into the middle of the pastry so the masses could get their daily dose of pastry and fruit. The machine was purchased by the Kennedy Biscuit Company out of Massachusetts and that’s where production of the Fig Newton began and rose to cookie legend. They were named after the town of Newton, MA, not after the famous physicist, as it was the habit of the Kennedy Biscuit Company to name their products after local places. In 1898, the Kennedy Biscuit Company was purchased by a growing little corporate conglomerate called Nabisco and the Fig Newton has been a staple of its product line ever since.
If you haven’t noticed, they are no longer called Fig Newtons. Now they are just Newtons. This allows them to mix up the fruit paste inside. Now you can find them stuffed with blueberries, strawberries, and probably pumpkin for the holidays. The real reason they dropped the “Fig” from their name was a branding issue. It seems that figs have an unpleasant reputation. Some consider them a bit geriatric. To be honest, when I thought of Fig Newtons, I thought of my grandmother who was a big fan. Others feel that the fig gets confused with the prune and has a bit of a “laxative-y” image. Eating a lot of figs can clean out the ol’ digestive system, so that’s not all that far from the truth. To battle that, Nabisco rebranded them as just Newtons, and that’s what you find in the stores today.
As for me, I like a good Fig Newton although I am very rarely ever going out of my way to get one. I am not sure if they would fall in my top ten of store-bought cookies. But if I am ever served one (at a fancy restaurant or something), I’ll always enjoy. It’s a taste of your youth for sure. The best of both worlds – a cookie and a sweet jelly center. I can still remember trying to muscle out a Newton from the sleeve in the box in our cookie drawer. A sweet memory.
The first time I had an actual fig was probably about 8 years ago. We were at a wedding with Lola’s family and figs were on the appetizer table. I ignored them as some kind of odd decoration and went in for some cheese and crackers. It was Lola’s Dad who came up to me with a big plate of nothing but figs. He was devouring them. He had the ability to make whatever he was eating look particularly delicious, so while he was talking to us, we were coveting his plate. I finally asked him what they were and he explained they were figs, that they were perfectly ripe and that I should try one. I did. They were great. It was an unusual fruit to eat, but it was sweet and tasty. I ate a couple more by the end of the day. Now I am a fan of figs. I guess I always was, I just never associated the fig in Fig Newtons with the actual fruit.
There are a ton of recipes online for making your own Fig Newtons, but the plausibility of me finding ripe figs for this was slim, plus I wasn’t all that motivated. Instead, I went up the street to Cumberland Farms where I knew they would have some Fig Newtons. Better still, they would have a single serve package of the cookies so I wouldn’t have to buy a whole box. I picked up the Newtons (a bargain at 99 cents), and made my way home. There’s a lot to be said for days that take less than 5 minutes and just a dollar to get what you need to celebrate. I made an afternoon cup of coffee and I enjoyed my Fig Newtons in my office as an afternoon snack.
The oblong shape of the cookie kind of threw me because I was expecting the famous Fig Newton square, but I guess they must make them this way for the individual packs. They were as good as I remembered too. The cookie was soft and crumbly, but the sweetness of the fig paste inside held it all together. A comic once remarked about the small little crunchies inside a Fig Newton saying that he felt like he was eating ants. I always think of that when I am eating a Fig Newton because it’s those little bits that hide in your teeth and crunch when you are not expecting it that makes you wonder what you just ate. Had I not ever had an actual fig, I would have not known what it was, but you can’t see an actual fig with all its seeds and flesh and not understand where that crunch comes from. Still, it’s one of those moments of concern when you are eating something. Nonetheless, the Fig Newton deserves our respect and admiration. They’ve been making smiles for over 125 years.
So yeah, I ate a Fig Newton today. I know what you are thinking – that I really stretched myself for this one. I really went all out. Well sometimes, there’s only so much you can do. I tried to find a recipe that used Fig Newtons to make something else from the Newtons, but couldn’t find anything. I could have made my own, but are we really celebrating a famous cookie by making our own? Shouldn’t I enjoy the product that is being heralded? That’s what I did, and if it made my day easy, then I’m okay with that. That’s one of the joys of the Fig Newton: simple pleasure. Some days we need to just enjoy that. Now excuse me, I have a rumbling in my stomach.
Hit it, Hal:
Next Up: National Hot Buttered Rum Day