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Articles & Essays



"Figorous Summer: Connections, climate help to secure cherished fruit"

Published 09/28/08
The News & Observer (Raleigh, NC)
After several years of late freezes and droughts, finally, an abundant season for fruit of all kinds. I filled my freezer with plump blueberries. My beloved peaches were back, sweeter than ever, after much too long an absence. 

Most delightful was the return of my favorite underground fruit: figs.  

I  say “underground fruit” because figs usually aren’t stacked in market stalls or produce sections. You have to know someone to get figs, especially to acquire enough to make jam or preserves. Figs make friends.

You might see a few California imports for a summer week or so at the supermarket, priced like gold nuggets. But most figs you find are locals, passed around by folks with large, old bushes in their yards.

During the last beleaguered growing season, despite cultivating as many fig connections as I could, I never gathered enough for even a few jars of jam. I couldn’t face another figless year, so I started networking early.

In May, about three months before you’d expect to see the first ripe fig, I was asked to judge a cookie contest for parishioners at Church of the Nativity in Raleigh. The subject of figs came up as I talked with contest organizer Alisa Tessier. She had a fig bush but didn’t know what to do with them. When figs start coming in, I told her, rinse them, dry them and put them in a bag in the freezer, then email me when you have a full bag. Freezing figs is fine if you’re making jam with them, and it’s usually the only way I can get enough at once to do so.  

Also in May, I faced that delight of those older than 50, the colonoscopy. Before the procedure, two nurses were discussing - no kidding - figs. One had a bush in her yard but didn’t know how to use them.

“I’ll take them,” I shouted.  

“Y’all have my info on my medical forms, so call me when they get ripe and I’ll come and get them, “ I said, causing one nurse to check the IV to be sure the drugs hadn’t already started. Afterward, when I emerged from the fog of pleasant chemicals, my first words to my waiting husband were: “Figs, I found a fig source.”

Those nurses never called. But my summer has been overflowing with figs even. From my canning buddy Brenda and my friend Denise. From Lisa in my fiddle jam session (the musical kind). Four gallon-sized bags from Alisa.

In this year of living figorously, I’ve made 22 jars of jam, so far - with two gallons still locked in my frozen vault. Some of the jars have gone to thank the donors, of course. As for the rest, it’s all about me.  
 


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