Talk about Time Travel. Yesterday I bit into my first fig of the season. One taste and and I was whisked back to my childhood, lying on the warm grass beneath the boughs of a neighbor’s fig tree eating an endless supply of sweet succulent figs. The amazing taste and texture of a fig with all those tiny seeds is an experience like no other. It’s positively addictive. With the moist spring we’ve had, 2009 should be a bountiful harvest year.
The cultivation of the fig dates back 4-5 thousand years, before Biblical times, believed first in Egypt, then Crete, and on to ancient Greece, where they are still a traditional part of the daily diet. Thought to have been brought by Spaniards to the Western Hemisphere in the 16th century and to Jamestown during the founding years, Virginians like to credit Thomas Jefferson for helping to popularize the fig.
Members of the ficus family, fig trees are easy to grow in zone 7 and higher. They are bug and disease resistant but you must share the harvest with an occasional flock of birds or your dog (they love figs!). Fig trees reach heights of 30 – 50 feet and can bear two or three crops a season. In our area, we see two different kinds of figs: Brown Turkey, copper-colored with no neck, and Celeste, purplish and more fleshy. Locate the plant against or near a south-facing wall so it can benefit from reflected heat during the winter. If temperatures fall below 15 degrees F, insulate the roots with mulch.
Figs fall into the false-fruit category like strawberries as each fig harbors thousands of tiny fruits. When you pick, make sure the figs are ripe as they do not ripen off the tree. The taste is fabulous on its own but marries well with a variety of foods and recipes abound. Preserves is one of my favorite ways to enjoy figs all year and I’m lucky that friends share gifts from their trees.
Read and Eleanor McGehee of Ware Neck often make preserves from their harvest for Christmas gifts but they’re not divulging their recipe and I’m not pressing them. (Shhhhh…. I know lemon is one of their secret ingredients.) Some recipes call for ginger, lemon or the rind of a lemon, while others list cinnamon, cloves, or allspice as ingredients. Eleanor is a member of The Garden Club of Gloucester.
Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester