Turns out, Fig Newtons aren't what they once were. Recreate your childhood memories with these easy homemade fig bars.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about how our memories deceive us. We think we remember something one way, but when we encounter it again later in life, we realize something changed. Was it us?
The video game Final Fantasy VII is one of those things for me. (Yeah, I'm going to talk about video games for a second, bear with me.)
When I first played the original PlayStation game over 20 years ago (yikes!), I thought it was the greatest game ever. The graphics were like nothing else at the time. The music was compelling and beautiful. And the story of a group of eco-terrorists trying to save the planet from a terrible, giant corporation felt thought-provoking and timely. Sadly, it feels more relevant than ever.
Years later, I tried to play it again and struggled. The game felt slow, cartoony, and tedious. Was it always that way? Because that wasn’t how I remembered it. Somehow, the magic was gone.
Then came the Final Fantasy VII Remake last month, a revisioning of the original with top-notch graphics, terrific voice acting, and an immersive level of detail. The escapism it offers is what is keeping me sane during the quarantine. The characters are more developed and interesting, the pacing is just right, and half the fun is admiring the scenery and realness of the world (especially at a time when we can't get out to see much else). It’s how I remember the original.
CHANGE IS INEVITABLE
Probably right around the time I first played that game, I was eating Fig Newtons. The tender fig bars with their fruity, seedy filling were the perfect snack, whether in my lunch at school or while immersed in a game.
I hadn’t had one for years until just recently and I was shocked at how bad it was. What did they do? This wasn't the Fig Newton I remembered, either.
I’m sure the recipe changed since I was a kid, as the name sure has. Now they’re called “Newtons.” Apparently, kids these days don't find figs appealing. So in 2012, they changed the brand name to represent the various fruit fillings they now offer, not just the fig. I suppose that makes sense. However, I don't love this evolution.
the history of the Fig Newton
The original fig bar recipe originated in the late 1800s from a cookie maker in Ohio. He sold the recipe to the Kennedy Biscuit Company in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who took advantage of the new technology of 1891 that allowed the cookies to be mass-produced. Using a system of funnels, the fig jam was poured with one funnel while the soft cookie dough was poured over it by another funnel system.
The company was known for naming their products after nearby towns. Newton was one of them. It's a city located about seven miles from Boston. Today, the Kennedy Biscuit Company is known as Nabisco, which is part of a larger conglomerate called Mondalez International.
Unfortunately, you can't get a fresh Newton cookie in Cambridge today, as their factories are now in New Jersey. But the original home of the Kennedy Biscuit Company is on the National Register of Historic Places.
While you can still find the plain fig flavor of Newtons, I don’t recommend it. The problem is that the filling doesn’t taste like fruit, fig, or otherwise. It’s painfully sweet and artificial. A look at the ingredient list explains why. It’s mostly sugars, preservatives, and oils. Somehow, I bet that when you take most of the fruit out of the cookie recipe and take the name of the fruit out of the cookie's name, eventually people stop expecting it.
Luckily, we can recreate the magic of the original Fig Newton right at home.
making better fig bars
To make your own fig bars, you start by making the dough. It’s a soft cookie-like dough that is quick to put together, but then needs a little time in the fridge (or freezer) to firm up. Think pastry dough more than cookie batter.
Then you make a quick jam. But don’t be intimidated. Jam is just cooked fruit with sugar. Many recipes use fresh figs to do this, but they’re expensive and not always easy to find.
I'm not Nabisco's target market, as I love figs. So much so that last year I tried to grow my own fig tree. It did well at first but didn’t make it through the winter despite my attempts to protect it from the cold. I’ll try again one day.
Dried figs are a great substitute for fresh
Until then, a lack of fresh figs is not a problem, as dried figs quickly soften and plump up when cooked in liquid. They’re cheap and easy to find in grocery stores, and you'll actually taste the fig in the cookie.
You can use all figs or a mixture of figs and other dried fruit, such as plums, cherries, cranberries, or apricots. I like to use at least two-thirds figs, but that’s just me. After a short simmer, you run the jam through the blender to achieve a smooth consistency.
Afterward, you spread the jam out on the dough, fold it up and bake. When cool, you cut it up into personal-sized bars and enjoy the fact that even if what you remember doesn't exist anymore, you can make a new memory.Print