Saturday, December 4, 2010

A GRACIOUS PLENTY OF FIGS!

Have you ever heard the phrase: “I don’t care a fig about that,” which means that something or someone is not important to you? Well, yesterday, I received some products that showed just the antithesis of that remark when two good friends gifted me with a gracious plenty of fig preserves. In my last blog I mentioned that I had searched for a jar of fig preserves for my daughter Elizabeth to take back to California.  Instead, I had found an interesting tourist in the Konriko country store, a visitor from Maine who lived in the same town I inhabited back in the 50’s. I also searched other stores for the delectable preserves, only to return home empty-handed.

The day after that blog appeared, I received an e-mail from friends, Mac and Julie Stearns, inviting me over to claim a jar from the store of fig preserves Julie had put up this year. We had a great visit, and Julie gave me a list of directions that told me how to keep fig trees bearing well. The list was created by Roy Young of Abbeville, and Mac directs the process according to these directions every year. He’s also the principal picker of this delicious fruit.

For years I tried to grow a fig tree and always ended up with a dry, gray twig and no crop. One day as I read a passage from Luke, I came upon the parable of the barren fig tree in Luke 13: “Then he told the parable: A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years, I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good, but if not, you cut it down.’” Voila! The New Testament had enlightened me about a practical method of growing fruit, and the last tree I planted and carefully fertilized began to bear. In fact, the tree is taking over a corner of the backyard in New Iberia. Since I’m away at Sewanee during its fruit bearing period, the birds enjoy a fig festival every year and I get no fig preserves!

When I returned home from the visit with the Stearns, I found a car in my drive and another friend, Nancy Lewis, had just deposited three jars of homemade fig preserves and a jar of pear preserves on my doorstep. Needless to say, I’m overwhelmed with responses to my blog, and Elizabeth is taking a box of carefully-packed preserves back to Palmdale, her home in the California desert.

Although fig trees were first cultivated in the Mediterranean, they flourished in the New World in Mexico during the 16th century, and by the 17th century, varieties had begun to grow in Virginia. From Virginia, the so-called “fig culture” took hold in the Carolinas, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. Mac says that the varieties that flourish in their yard are the pear shaped “Celeste” variety, the fruit of which has white or pink/amber pulp and wonderful flavors, and the “Brown Turkey” variety which has no neck, is copper colored, and has pulp that is white and pinkish. I didn’t have time to question Nancy about the source of her supply, but the preserves looked like good biscuit toppers to me.

I’m including Roy Young’s “recipe” for growing bumper crops of figs that Julie shared with me: “Use 13-13-13 fertilizer. Start in February after a good rain and use 1 ½ pounds for each year old the tree is for first fertilization. Use 1 ½ pounds per tree once a month after a good rain until October. You don’t need to put beyond drip line. Don’t work soil. Just put on top of ground. Trees should get a good soaking twice a week. If there isn’t enough rain, water good twice a week, not more often.”

There’re several good fig preserve recipes, old fashioned and otherwise, on the Internet, but essentially all you need to concoct jars of fig preserves are figs, sugar, and lemon. Julie says she cooks them by the old fashioned way: “a clump of this and a clump of that.” And, folks, some recipes use six pounds of sugar to six pounds of figs. You can judge about how many inches will be added to your waistline if you feast on biscuits and figs every morning for a few months.

I’m including a picture of the fig picker, Mac, and the fig preserver, Julie, resting from their backyard labors in the fig garden. Thanks to Mac, Julie, and Nancy, for the gracious plenty of fig preserves. Elizabeth says it’s the ultimate Christmas gift!
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