Recently my lovely daughter in law gave me the best, most luxurious and truly thoughtful gift, a bagful of Figs, to my mind the nectar of the Gods.
We had at one point in our growing relationship discussed my childhood memories and I relayed the tale of how when I was a kid, living at Coogee Beach in Sydney in the backyard, well away from the ubiquitous Hills Hoist, we had two trees, a Pepper tree and a Fig Tree.
The Pepper tree was large and mature, with great broad branches to sit on a hideaway for spying on the world of adults. My friend from next door Michael, one of eight boys and I frequently did, taking handfuls of Figs with us in season to consume.
Eating Figs like that, straight off the tree and as fresh as can be is a taste sensation I will never forget, one indelibly etched in my memory.
Interestingly though, when you research these delicious fruits and find out they have been growing on earth for thousands and thousands of years, we still know very little about their cultivation. They enjoy being a mystery.
In Australia while it seems amazing, they are still so expensive even when in season, despite the efforts of growers championing their beauty and considerable style.
Considering too that our day and age when we seem to be able to handle and move fragile fruits like raspberries successfully, Figs are still far too expensive and begs the question, in our climate why aren’t we cultivating them more?
The majority of the population are losing them from living memory as they are unable to learn about them first hand as my generation did.
While World War II raged and foods were rationed, figs from the backyard were a treat.
Today with more and people living in high rise apartments or in a house in the suburbs, the majority probably haven’t encountered them before.
Over the past fifty years as suburbs grew in our major cities, developers mowed down all vegetation including the mighty fig tree.
Figs haven’t been fashionable either for a while.
This is fact we also need to change because if those who can afford them support growers to expand, hopefully they will be able to lower the price just like berry growers have over the past few years.
Figs love a Mediterranean climate, well doesn’t everyone!
Who wouldn’t want to spend their life warmed by the sun and appreciated by both mortals and the gods.
Figs are lusciously sweet, with a complex texture that you can really sink your teeth into.
They are good for people on diets and good to lower high blood pressure because of the potassium they contain, which suits me, a Septuagenarian to a tee!
Eaten fresh, glazed, grilled with honey and a dash of clotted cream, freshly dried, poached or cooked in a multitude of ways, their addition to your palate will change your life.
As well as imbibing Figs straight from the tree, you can toss them through a salad, serve them with a plate of cheese and enjoy them on toast or in Almond Cake with Maggie Beer’s famous Burnt Fig Jam. And, decadence personified, you can fold fresh Figs through a chocolate cake. Yum!
Figs are mentioned in The Bible numerous times 1 Samuel 30:12 | And they gave him a piece of a cake of figs, and two clusters of raisins: and when he had eaten, his spirit came again to him: for he had eaten no bread, nor drunk any water, three days and three nights
Well they certainly have raised my spirits, since I have been enjoying them for breakfast this week, it’s on the way to soaring high.
Discoveries by archaeologists of Neolithic sub fossils of Figs date back to between 9200 and 9400 BC. This suggests it was one of the first food crops ever cultivated by humans.
Known to the Egyptians as the ‘tree of life’, it was the ancient Greeks exploited Figs totally, they were so enamoured of their flavour and succulent flesh they created laws around exporting the best quality, wanting to keep them entirely for themselves something I understand very well indeed.
They had an added bonus that they could also be dried well, and so could be enjoyed in a richer form once their first flush had flown or used in cooking.
The Romans adored them too.
They believed the wolf that suckled Romulus and Remus the founders of Rome had rested under a fig tree, and as their fame and fortune spread across Mediterranean countries such as Spain, who took them to the world after the 16th century, then they found themselves on the way to Portugal, Turkey and across the seas to California and Australia.
Ficus carica, the Black ‘Mission’, the first variety grown in Australia originated from a plant that grew in Spain about 200 years ago and was transported by Spanish missionaries to the new world.
In southern California the plant was propagated to be passed on to others, and it came to Australia in the 19th century alongside the gold rush, as fruit growers were wanting to see what fruit trees would succeed in the Australian colonies.
They certainly did, and my mother told me they were very fashionable when she was married between the wars in 1926, which is how one ended up in our backyard.
She knew them from her days living at Scone in northern NSW during her formative years.
She loved the luscious fruit and like other kids of her age, was picking Figs, Avocadoes and Mangoes straight from a tree.
She was a total fruit fanatic, the trait she passed it on to me, which it seems I failed to do with my three sons. I still worry about their lack of fruit eating.
Every night when I was a child my mother would after we had eaten the evening meal and it had been cleared away, position herself with a bowl of fruit and a knife in the middle of the lounge room.
She then proceeded to cut up copious amounts of fresh fruits, including figs and pass it out, ensuring we all had our fill.
She also wanted to keep us all healthy.
Figs are highly ornamental looking wonderful in both formal or informal gardens and growing abundantly in a container too, they will reward an owner with a crop twice each year.
They are high in calcium and fibre and perfect for teaching the kids how to care for trees first hand.
They love Figs in South Australia so if you are visiting soon you can visit orchards in many places, including the Glen Ewin Estate at Houghton. This interesting property with its heritage homestead and outbuildings has a rich and fascinating history in both wine and Figs.
They have some 5000 trees today on the terraces, where you can enjoy picking your own Figs. Many of the trees are from the original jam-making days of the estate and now produce a variety of delicious fig-based products under the Willabrand Fresh Figs name.
If a friend has a good flowering fig tree one of the best times for propagating and planting fig trees is mid winter, as they are deciduous so the call is: plant a Fig Tree in your backyard or on a balcony in a container and your life and taste buds will never be the same again.
They are propagated easily from hardwood cuttings about 30 to 40 cm long placed directly in the ground, and buried halfway up the cutting.
They will establish roots and even set fruit during their first year.
Otherwise use well-established plants either in the ground or in containers, gorgeous Figs can be planted at any time of the year.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2016
Growing Figs – More Information – Click Links