I come from a land where the peach is queen. There are peach parks, peach festivals, a real live peach queen, and even a water tower devoted to her luscious, ruddy being. For several months in the summer, every magazine, cooking show, and commentary is devoted to recipes for cobblers and ice creams, tales of eating peaches over the sink, while the juices run down your arms, and equally sappy, syrupy nostalgia for our Southern sovereign and the barefoot days of old.
I, however, must profess my allegiance to another: the noble fig, the oft-ignored fruit of the gods, the red-headed stepchild of Southern culture. In my world, the Brown Turkey fig is king.
As the proud owner of the mother of all fig trees (pictured above), my anticipation begins when I see the first tiny green shoots of leaves heralding the end of winter and the coming of warmer days. With surprising alacrity, the tree leafs out, and soon little green droplets begin to appear. That is when time stops.
For months I wait. And watch. Was there a slight color change? Are they bigger? Are they growing at all?
Then, one day, all of a sudden like, I see the tell-tale dark purplish brown peeking out from behind a leaf! Oh frabjous day! Forget that floozy, the tawdry peach. The Queen is dead; long live the King!
Silently, unheralded by the press and stars with spatulas and catchy phrases, in all of its dusky glory, the fig has arrived to share with me its succulent, honeyed goodness. I take what I can reach. Eating them directly from the tree while the birds, bees, and wasps take the rest. I envision hot jars and pans of sugar syrup, a steamy kitchen boiling with candied delicacies.
It could be 1971. It could be 2001. But my summer, the summers in my memory and future, will always be about the fig. That is, until it’s time for scuppernongs…