20 August 2006

Summer, figs, and happy memories

I see it has been nearly 2 weeks since I wrote anything here. Life seems to get in the way sometimes. We've been picking figs for the last 10 days. These are Italian Honey Figs.

They are so wonderful fresh off the tree. Like candy in the orchard. We've been sharing them with my Mom. Besides eating them fresh, I've put over a gallon in the freezer. Never have eaten fig ice cream, but I think we might try it this week.

Picking figs reminds me of summers at my grandparents' in Louisiana. They had half a dozen or so huge fig trees. My great-grandparents had some, too. When we were old enough to climb ladders, picking figs became the job of the grandchildren. My grandmother put up hundreds of jars of fig preserves. In the late 1960s - early 70s a recipe surfaced for making mock strawberry preserves using figs and strawberry Jell-O, and my grandmother decided to try it. I never will forget my grandfather's expression when he found out about that!

But I digress. One particular tree had spectacular figs. Everyone wanted the figs from that tree. It was growing out at their ranch where there had been an old homestead. My great-grandfather had put a fence around it to keep the cows away. Over the years friends and family have taken cuttings and tried to get new starts of that tree, but no one had any success. (Might've been their technique, but who knows?)

Our Italian Honey Fig tree is about 8 years old and this is it's second year to produce. I had also planted a Tennessee Mountain Fig. This is it's 3rd year and it has about a dozen figs. Once I figured out that fig trees would survive at the farm in southern Tenneesee, I researched fig tree propogation. In Franklin County, Tennessee there is a very old fig tree at an abandoned homestead where camels are currently being raised. (That's another story, but camels at the San Diego Zoo and other places were likely born in TN.) In the fall of 2003, I got some cuttings from that tree and attempted to root them. One of the cuttings thrived and this spring I planted it.

In January 2005, I asked my uncle in Louisiana about the ranch fig tree. The fence my great-grandfather installed had fallen down more than 30 years ago. No one has picked figs from the tree in several years and my uncle wasn't even sure there was much of the tree left. However, he kindly went to check and came home with about two dozen cuttings for me. I brought them to Alabama, where I have kept them in a pot, outside in the summer and inside in the winter. Three of those cuttings survived. I planted one at the farm this spring, but the other two are still being container grown.

So now we have four fig trees at the farm: Italian Honey, Tennessee Mountain, Camel and Ranch. As we have no idea of the varieties of the latter two, we are calling them after their places of origin. Once they start making figs, we'll do some more research to see if they can be properly identified. But to us, they will remain known as the Ranch and Camel figs.

My spouse does not like working in the dirt, and doesn't really understand my fascination with planting and growing things. But he is coming close now. Wednesday afternoon, as we were picking figs and snacking on them there under the tree, he said he now understands why we needed fig trees. There is nothing like savouring a freshly picked fig in the orchard with a summer breeze gently stirring the air.
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