Sunday, November 16, 2014

Fickle Figs

I have always loved figs.
First it was only dried figs that were served whenever company was coming.  The figs came in a circle stacked side-by-side and sealed with crinkly cellophane.  We took those figs, bit off the tiny stem and stuffed them with walnuts for our guests. The figs were always accompanied on the serving platter by dates but first we had to squirrel in to get the pit out which was replaced by shoving an almond or two deep into the cylindrical cavity of those dates.  My friend (whose job it was to fly to Iran and inspect shipments of dates, apricots, & nuts) told me never to buy pitted dates. He saw that they were pitted by women using their teeth!

Fig Newtons were a treasured cookie of my childhood, though they've fallen out of favor now. (And I never took to those other-flavored fig newtons.)

When I moved to Manhattan I was exposed to fresh figs for the first time and I fell in love with their delicate sweet-not-sugary taste
  in salads with goat cheese and nuts, or wrapped in prosciutto.  Then I came across this simply exquisite artwork of figs online and I just couldn't stop staring at it.  The greens and the purples (my favorite colors), the beautiful gradation of colors, the exquisiteness of lines.  Here was someone who appreciated figs as much as I did.
Fabulous illustration by John Segal
About ten years ago, our down-the-block neighbor Frank gave us three fig saplings because we so loved his fresh figs. My husband planted them but they never took. After years of scraggly growth, two of the trees died off.  It was tough, but I was not fig-deprived.

Our neighbors, Jenni and Todd, have a truly massive fig tree in their yard and every year when their tree is bursting with more figs than they can possibly manage, they send out a blast email to everyone in the 'hood:

Please take some figs off our hands and make something delicious (or at least interesting) for the party we just decided to have next Saturday.  We have a gazillion figs in the fridge after this weekend's explosion. Come get some and make something to bring to a fig party...think fig pizza, fig bread, fig brownies, jam, sangria, newtons...

Hi, friends. Our fig tree is producing like crazy and we need your help! Please join us for our Second Annual Fig Pickin' on our new screened porch for figs and whatever goes well with figs.  The diversity and deliciousness of last year's fig dishes will be hard to top but we know you are up to the task!  If you are interested in making something, we will FIGure out how to get some to you. 

After a slow start our fig tree is finally producing, which means that it's time for our Third Annual Fig Pickin!  Please take some figs off our hands and make something figgin' awesome for the party.  Previous years' fig dishes have been diverse and delicious and repeat recipes are welcomed. Can you top figs in blankets? Figarettes?  

Year after year, it was wonderful but it was depressing.  Then a few years back my husband moved the sole remaining fig to the edge of his garden and finally, finally that little fig tree began to grow fruit! And for three years the fig grew green figs that never, NEVER ripened! They just stayed green, got hard and then died off. Why wouldn't OUR fig tree finish the job?  

This year, once again we got an abundant crop of green figs.  Each time I pulled into the driveway, I scanned that tree, hoping to see some ripening figs, and then  miracle of miracles  ONE ripened!  Hooray! That single fig was delicious!  Slowly others started to ripen and I thought, That tree has finally matured.  We're going to have a bumper crop of figs!  Each day as they softened we would get five to six ripe-for-the-picking fresh figs for eating…but you couldn't leave them to get that rich purple hue because the birds had their way at them so we picked them as judiciously and quickly as we could. 

After a week of getting those lovely figs, it all stopped.  No more ripened.  The bounty ceased.  I went online to see what I could find out.  Turns out there were many reasons:  not enough water; too much stress (how could a fig tree be stressed?); too much new growth diverting the plant's energy from ripening the figs it already had. That cause seemed probable  the tree was growing by leaps and bounds.  So, I got out the clippers and gently chopped off the new branch shoots from all over that tree.

The tree was loaded with green figs. 

And then, when all hope was lost  one  just one little fig started to turn,

 and before the birds could get at it, I quickly picked and ate that fig.

And the next week  after it turned cold and we'd already had fires in our fireplace — there were four more! Was the solution working?

This luscious fig had more time to mature…but not the others.

Now I ask you  why the heck won't ALL those fickle figs ripen?


Well, it seems the fig's on me because here it is mid-November, the leaves on that tree are turning spotty yellow/brown, falling off, and wouldn't you know  more figs are ripening!  Maybe I should start searching recipes.  Fig chutney anyone?