Yet again fruit outshines our vegetables this year . . . after the Strawberries; Gooseberries; White, Red and Black Currants it's now the turn of the Figs.
To be absolutely precise a Fig is not a fruit, it is a flower – the flower is inside-out, it flowers within the fleshy pouch and there's a teeny little hole in the end just big enough for a Fig Wasp to crawl to pollinate it. Isn't nature amazing?!
A few years ago, and we've forgotten to make a note of the year, we picked so many Figs from our tree that we had to eat Figs for breakfast and lunch and have Fig Tarte Tatin for supper. I have a vague recollection it was a hot summer after a particularly cold winter, so when the recent winter of 2009/2010 was one of the coldest on record and temperatures began to soar in May, June and July we crossed our fingers and eagerly waited . . .
Sure enough this year we have figs, not in huge quantities but we have picked between 2 and 4 figs each day this week. You can just see our fig tree in the photo above, it's the spreading green tree in the distance in the corner of the walled garden. We didn't plant it – it's in the coolest and least sunny corner, which isn't the best position for a Mediterranean tree. But it's roots may be restricted as it is planted on a pile of rubble from demolished cold frames – and that's what the gardening books say is a good thing.
The most common Fig variety grown in Britain is the Brown Turkey, but from the size and colour of the fruit and the shape of the leaves I think our is a Brunswick. It's a waiting game, picked too early and flesh is dry and bitter, left too long it collapses into a mess covered with wasps!
Picking them isn't easy, it involves walking sticks and much stretching through the forest of giant leaves to bend down the springy branches and pluck the prize! Best eaten straight away, no need for cream, the fleash melts in the mouth and tastes like an exotic conserve . . . mmmmm!
We have a second tree in a sunnier spot between our house and the garden wall and next to a little outhouse. I grew this from a cutting – I was pruning the big Fig tree and noticed one of the low branches had 'layered' itself and was growing roots. I just stuck the branch in the ground and it grew – it's now as tall as the wall (3.5 m) and this year bears Figs for the first time.
In years when the Fig crop is small (some years we get only one or two) we can enjoy using the leaves . . . not as Adam and Eve a fancy dress costumes! but in the kitchen, use the leaves to wrap chicken or fish and bake in the oven. The leaves give off an exotic coconut flavour – just right for a summer supper in the garden.