This really is a story about the eating of a superbly delicious fig, warm from the sun, picked directly from a tree on a sun-baked Greek island…
I have read many accounts of the deliciousness of figs and yet I remain sceptical. I can’t match the accounts with the insipid, juice-less Brown Turkey figs we have been growing for several years. We eat them because we feel obliged to, having gone to the effort of growing them, but there’s no pleasure in it. Perhaps the variety is to blame; perhaps the pot. Perhaps the general lack of care – or sun, but whatever the reason my fig experience to date has been very disappointing. The dark figs which appear sometimes in the grocer or supermarket are better, but still nothing to get excited about.
My conversion took place last week during a holiday on the Greek island of Kea. Figs grow like weeds on the hillside, suckering in to disorganised thickets. The fig tree next to our lodging was diseased and unpromising but a walk in to the surrounding countryside, baked golden and dry after the summer gave me plenty of chances to sample some others
By luck, the first one I picked was The One – brownish blue on the outside and dark red and juicy on the inside when I pulled it apart. Popping half in to my mouth without expectation of success, I was completely taken by surprise! The warm, sticky fig had an interesting and significant flavour and it was deeply sweet and well, fig like. I ate three more before I began to feel a teeny bit sick from the sweetness.
I tried lots more while I was on the island. The dark ones were the best. The green ones with white insides were nice but not in the same league. I could taste the figginess of fig rolls – a childhood treat containing dried fig paste – but this was the actual, real taste before it became dried and pureed and put in a biscuit in my lunch box.
So, the million dollar question: Can I recreate this at home? I don’t know but I do know I need to try. I’ve found a supplier of figs, Reads Nursery, with good descriptions of the many varieties they sell. I have selected one called ‘Sugar 12’ for a prime, sheltered spot in the garden, and ‘Dauphine’ for the orchard, where I’m hoping it will prosper as a large standard tree – to be picnicked under, surrounded by suitably evocative ground cover (rosemary, thyme, lavender…)
All I need now (in addition to quite a lot of grit for the heavy clay soil) is lots of sunshine. Perhaps then this little corner of Hampshire might fulfil its alter-destiny as a glorious souvenir of my Mediterranean holiday. What could possibly go wrong?!