Friday, September 14, 2012

Fee, Fie, Foe, Friday: The Fig Tree Saga

A fig tree, a Brown Turkey fig, named Fignatious.
This is my second fig tree. It'll spend the coming winter in the sun room, and next spring, it should get a permanent outdoor home. I'd always wanted a fig tree growing up; my Italian and French relatives all had them, and since they were so prolific, my parents never bothered to plant one themselves. I suspect also, that to my mother at least, having a fig tree in the garden, wrapped up and girded against our Philadelphia winters, would have branded her as being too ethnically Italian. She preferred to be thought of as "American". 

I thought those garden monsters, which is what a well-wrapped fig tree still looks like to me today, were magic trees. Not nearly as mundane as an apple tree or a cherry. My Aunt Marie, who had a 30-year old specimen in her yard, used to pull ripe figs right off the tree for me to eat, when I was little. Her tree was planted against the house on the South side, and she could just open a second floor window, and pluck them ripe right off the tree. They tasted sweet and gritty like a fig bar to me, but without the cake. I was entranced. I still am.

Once I had a home of my own with a good spot for a fig tree, I bought myself my favorite, a tiny potted Brown Turkey Fig tree. My husband and I planted it with much ceremony, although since it was so small, I could have dug a hole for it with a soup spoon.  We named it Fignatious. It grew. Wonder of wonders, it produced figs. Lots of them, and as wonderful as the ones I can remember my Aunt Marie picking, warm and sugary. I was making a lot of homemade goat cheese at the time, and there is nothing nicer than a glass of wine, and a plate of homegrown figs, split and spread with fresh goats cheese and dusted with cracked pepper.

Each year I'd swaddle it against the winter as tenderly as a toddler is tucked into a snow suit.  Said husband, a Californian, and an equal fig-lover, was derisive; he thought it would be fine without all the fuss. What would he know, a man who was used to his backyard avocado tree producing fruit on demand for lunch each day? I wrapped. Every year I wrapped until we divorced and I left Fignatious behind, still bundled up, in the midst of a March snowstorm. In April I called him and told him to unwrap the fig tree, which he obligingly did. He also offered me as many figs as I'd like to come and pick. Which I also did. 

But the following fall, we were both embroiled in our own separate lives, and poor Fignatious was left to shift for himself, uncovered, with record cold and snow. I was in a new relationship myself, and didn't want to run into the Californian's new live-in girlfriend on the property. No wrapping for the fig. Later in the year, I ran into my ex-Californian in town, and he actually admitted that I had been right. The fig tree was no more. He'd waited all summer and into early fall and when nothing sprouted, he cut Fignatious down. That made me very, very sad, but it was tempered with the thought that after all these years, he'd finally admitted I was right about something. I was right. Fignatious was gone to the other side, and unfortunately, the Californian went soon after.

Until this year, I've been content with buying figs, all colors, sizes and shapes, but they are rarely ever really sweet. At least half of them are tasteless. I want my figs to taste the way they should, the way I remember. For some reason, this year I HAD to get a fig tree. A Brown Turkey Fig. I found just the right plant at my local Whole Foods, lurking outside the store this past spring amidst the fancy organic tomato plants. I bought it and brought it home. Fignatious lives, again. A resurrection of sorts, at least of the spirit. I know these figs are going to be delicious, and that this tree will be kept safe, wrapped and watched over.

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