One of the very first things I did on arriving at Kibbutz Malkia in 1971 was to pick fresh, succulent figs from ancient trees dotting the rocky landscape. They were the most divine things I had ever tasted and I was overwhelmed by the prospect that I was eating a Biblical fruit in the land of the Bible. How exotic!
Years later, daughter Elana wrote to tell me that she had just plucked figs from atop a horse she was riding at Kibbutz Geva. What a romantic image! I remember thinking I must use that scene in a story someday.
Then, by sheer coincidence, I happened to read two different novels that referred to fig trees growing in Manhattan. Fig trees in New York? Wouldn’t it be too cold there? Once I stopped to think about it, I realized that Malkia, while hot as blazes when I arrived in August, was located in the Upper Galilee on the border with Lebanon. It could get quite cold in winter, although compared with my home in New England, it was mild. (We in the Northeast can get pretty competitive about our weather.)
Could it possibly be true that I could cultivate figs outdoors in chilly Central Massachusetts?
Could I hope to retrieve a piece of that sensuous, exotic Levantine feeling in my own backyard?
So, a little over three years ago I purchased a Mission fig tree from an online retailer. The website said that I could indeed, with care, successfully grow figs. Just in case, I planned to keep mine in the sunroom during the dead of winter and outside on the patio in the summer. Just to be sure.
For a long time the “tree” sat in its little 4-inch pot, not doing much of anything. Twice it lost all its leaves, making me believe that it had died, but each spring the leaves returned. Three years in, the darn thing hasn’t grown more than a couple inches in height, and has only graduated to a 6-inch pot.
Then, around the end of this past April, Joel noticed something growing on the stick that calls itself a tree trunk. A new leaf. Within about a week, we noticed that these leaves were different; they were spherical. We had two tiny green figs! The little fruits grew slowly but surely into teardrop shaped globes about the size of prune plums.
In June, it was time to take the plants outside for their summer vacation. Within 48 hours of taking up residence on the patio, the figs turned brown. Panic ensued. Had they spoiled? Had they become infected? What to do?
What I always do when confronted with a horticultural challenge. I called my wonderfully calm and agriculturally inclined son-in-law, Adam. He assured me that the figs were probably ripening, not spoiling. I then went online to find out what to do. The first piece of info that popped up was that birds were likely to attack the figs, so I ran (okay, walked) to the kitchen to cut off a length of cheesecloth, which I wrapped around the two fruits as gently as if they were my infant children. I checked on them daily, giving a little squeeze to see if they were soft enough to pick. I even took a picture of the tree that you can see here.
Then, we went away for the weekend. On return home I squeezed again and, lo and behold, we had liftoff. I cut the two figs from the tree and called to Joel. The figs would be our dessert that night. The photo of the fig’s interior is a stock photo since I was so excited to eat the fruit that I forgot to take a picture. It is identical to ours, however.
We Skyped with the kids and said a she’hechiyanu, a special blessing of gratitude, as we enjoyed the very first figs of our Biblical garden.