There are days when I feel more a character somewhere between Flagg and Faulkner, and today was one of them: I went back to the home place for figs.
In the late 70s, I planted a brown turkey fig tree in my mother's backyard, down below the end of the septic tank lines. It was something I bought for a very little money at the Roses's dime store at Rose Manor in West Smithfield. Bare roots in damp sawdust wrapped in plastic.
It grew, and some time later, my brother mowed it down. Several times, he mowed it down. I was not so happy, but I recognized the problem that an odd bush presented in the middle of a half-acre of wire-grass. At some point, he and I moved farther away with the thought of a fig tree drifting further and further from our reality.
The fig returned and grew. Whoever was cutting Mama's grass let the tree grow. And grow it did.
From the north.
And from the west.
Fig trees are not supposed to do well in our climate. Apparently, there are exceptions. My grandparents had what amounted to a fig bush by a barn. It was hardly a few feet high, and the story was that figs just don't do well here. Regardless, I have lived in smaller apartments than this tree in my brother's back yard.
Bro has been picking the figs and offering them for sale at a local wide spot in the road where people sell produce. People rave about the taste of the figs, but they never ask to buy them. He was puzzled by that, and I suggested that figs were an old fashioned fruit that have gone mostly out of style, at least in this area. Neither of us recall our mother ever cooking a fig except in the fall for a fruit cake.
I suspect not all that many people even eat Fig Newtons anymore.
We drove home this morning to pick a few figs. I had never seen the fruit on this tree, much less tasted it, so I wasn't sure what to expect. Yes, over 30 years after planting the tree, I'm on a trajectory to taste the fruit. That's just plain odd no matter how I think about it.
The fruits are small. The large ones are about half the size of a hen's egg. They turn brown when fully ripened, but I'm picking, and eating, anything that isn't gourd green.
We gathered the fruit in plastic grocery bags. (No matter how much we try to use only the reusable bags, we wind up with a few of the plastic. Go figure.)
Yes, my figging partner brought a proper basket. She also brought a basket she made earlier, but the weather turned on us before I could get a picture of it. Maybe later. Somewhere in this world, we have a jealous wren.
She also stood on a proper ladder-thing.
It took about an hour to pick the figs we could reach. At 100 degrees, an hour was a gracious plenty for me. We had a little lunch, toured the area, visited the dead, and left.
At home, it's time to cook. OK, half a bag went in the freezer for my smoothies. I'm cooking the other half into fig stew to have with biscuits. Were I a real cook, and a real character somewhere from the pages of Flagg and Faulkner, I'd be putting up fig preserves. That'd take a little more kitchen that I have, and then there'd be the matter of storage space.
Figs in the pot with a very little olive oil and a lot of water.
This mess simmers about an hour.
At this point, my grandmother would hand my papa, whom you would call my grandfather, a potato smasher and tell him to get to work, with a smile and a hug, of course. I would do the same except that I don't have a tater smasher. I use a big spoon and a fork for that activity.
So what's a poboy to do? Oh yes, the smoothie blender. This works well, perhaps too well.
For one, this needs to simmer to get some water out. (Yes, I added a little water in the blender, but I doubt that was really necessary.) It also needs some lumps.
I have a few more figs, and I think they now have a worthy purpose.
Let's take off the stems, and do a little dicing.
I'll let this simmer lightly for a while to cook through the figs, but there'll be no more smooshing or blending. Just some eating on a biscuit.
Oh yes, one thing. You might recall that Bro was a little bummed about not being able to sell the figs on the side of the road. So much for that retirement plan. I'm sure we've both seen worse.
I consoled him like this: The tree is at the end of his septic tank drain lines. His little turds become the little figs for the birds and bugs that, in turn, spread more little turds everywhere. In a sense, he is crapping all over the world.
He thanked me for that.
BTW, I might add some brown sugar when you're not looking.