Friday, July 27, 2012

On Figs and Posterity

In my wildly-ranging and near-constant summer curiosity, I recently came across a book: The Kadota Fig: A Treatise on its Origin, Planting and Care, by W. Sam Clark of Sultana, California, published in 1920. This is a weird little text, written in such highly overwrought Victorian-ese, it is hard to read without laughing both in shock and frustration.
In after centuries, was it not the dark-skinned Padres of Old Spain whose indomitable spirit and loving kindly ways blazed the Christian trails into our western lands, bringing comfort and spiritual cheer, and implanting with their blessings this same old fig in the sun-kissed lands of California? Does not this fig image an exact reproduction of these patient and blessed men who gave this fig and their lives to us? Does it not furnish physical shade and protection, temporal food and spiritual inspiration and lasting blessings? Are its fruits not sweet and pure, dark in color, yet never failing in time and season? Are these fruits not like the Padres of old, ever welcome in humblest home, to lordly mansion, bringing peace and consolation to us all? Are they not almost one?
Now comes the Kadota, a product of our land and time. Almost with meteoric speed and splendor, from out our western skies comes this fair-faced visitor, like [a] gracious maiden through parted curtains, a vision of beauty and joy.
But, despite Clark's strange racism and insistence in philosophizing, I feel some sympathy towards him. I too am constantly looking for the connection between people and plants; Clark seems to be some misguided (by the era's epidemic of racism) early ethnobotanist (before there was such a term) with a penchant for rhetorical questions. And though he didn't create the Kadota—it was a chance discovery by Stephen J. Taft , who discovered the fig growing near Fresno in someone else's field of Dottatos, the green Italian fig from the Calabria region—he certainly loved it. There is debate over whether or not Dottatos and Kadotas really are different figs, though according to Clark they certainly are, and in his mind, the Kadota is far superior.
This fig, true product of our land and spirit of our people, brings us fame and honor, while radiating pure joy and pleasure. Vibrating from its very heart are the impulses of the Californian; scattering with the prodigality and western abandonment its harvest of luscious fruit and fulfilled promises.
Such enthusiasm! But I'm guilty of that too, calling my Eva's Pride tree "a miracle" and Mid Pride peaches fruit "to eat thoughtfully." It is hard not to be overtly fan-ish about something that you grow that produces food that tastes very good.

In the midst of all his ridiculous praise and cultural biases, there are some fascinating nuggets in this book. Here is a page of advice he gives on growing figs:

Clark also writes that in 1919, he had earned 9 cents per pound, or $180 per ton for fresh figs, regardless of size or variety. According to the Crop Values 2011 Summary, published by National Agricultural Statistics Service, an arm of the USDA, the average amount a farmer received for a ton of fresh figs was $549 in 2010. I don't know how to comment on that fact; but I do know that seeing those two figures together means something, I just haven't figured out what.

He also gives very good pruning advice, made all the more fascinating by the child-laborer who is doing the pruning.

This book fascinates me; I haven't been able to get it out of my head since I found it. I kind of like Mr. Clark despite his glaring flaws. This man is passionately attached to things that grow, and that is an attachment I deeply understand.

Perhaps someone years from now will come across my scribblings and laugh or roll her eyes. Maybe she'll think that I was a victim of whatever cultural bias I can't see because I'm smack in the middle of it, and maybe she'll complain about my overuse of coordinating conjunctions. I hope, however, that somehow she gets some part of me, that we're able to connect across time through our love for that which grows, and if we can, right now that feels pretty good to me.

Fig Leaf Liqueur
From Making Wines, Liqueurs, and Cordials, by Beshlie Grimes
Give this to your friends and ask them to guess what it is: very tropical with hints lime, bright with gin and a hit of resinous interest, but ending rich and almost creamy, as if a whole coconut were concentrated down into the liqueur.

You will need:
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups water
7 well-washed fig leaves
1 1/2 cups good-quality gin (I used Hendricks)

To make the liqueur:
Dissolve the sugar in the water over medium heat. Add the fig leaves and bring the mixture to a full boil, keeping it there for 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool completely. Remove the leaves, pressing them against the side of the pan to release any fluid. Discard the spent leaves. Stir in the gin. Taste what you just made. Isn't it tasty? And it hasn't even aged yet.

Pour the mixture through a fine strainer (there shouldn't be any residue, but just in case) and into a sterilized bottle to age. Cap the bottle and let the mixture age for a month or so somewhere cool and dark.

Serve with a squeeze of lime, or, as Grimes suggests, with pineapple juice.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


I was lucky when I moved into this house. A whole lot of beauty grew here in the front yard already. There is a mature crepe myrtle who embraces the west like a woman in love, and this time of year, her tresses flame magenta.

There is a Mexican Bird of Paradise that blooms so brightly it makes me feel like I'm in an overexposed photograph on a postcard from somewhere very tropical.

There are roses, too, a couple really good ones. 

In the process of planting and mulching the fruit trees in the front of the property the last couple years, I removed most of the traditional lawn. In the last few weeks, with the help of my summer garden intern, I've removed even more of it, to finish the process this autumn. Under the apple trees along the path to the front door, I've begun a new bed. In this bed, I'm planting a collection of bearded iris and South African bulbs, drought- and heat-happy plants that put on big floral shows. A designer would choose one or two varieties, but I am no designer, more a mad-collector, hungry for each blossom or leaf that makes me grin. So I put in orders for this and this and this. This. This! The South African bulbs have already arrived and I've begun planting; the iris should arrive within the next two weeks. When I can't sleep at night, which is often, I dream of what this bed will be.

But I don't stop dreaming there. Once I've finished planting the iris bed, the last remaining grass is coming out, to be replaced by a native sedge, Carex pansa, with plenty of rainlilies tucked in for interest. Dianthus, which grows on my property as if it originated here, will butt up against and perhaps even trail into the Carex. Then, upon the completion of that swath of meadow, I have planned a small water feature between the meadow and the orchard, a small one, just large enough for a splash of water and a really good water lily.

This is the first part of my yard that I've planned for beauty alone, not for use or food-production. I believe that vegetable gardens and orchards are beautiful places, but I also believe in places that feed us simply with their beauty.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

July in the Garden

It's hot and buzzy with bees. It's slow but unstoppable. It's the time not of beginning, but of coming in and coming about, swelling and drying.

(Sorry for the gratuitous Indiana Bones pictures. I can't help myself.)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


The windows are open and the breeze is playing with the curtains. E is working from home today, and we get to spend the day in the presence of each other. Currently, he's typing at ridiculous speed and whistling along with the tango that is dancing through the house, adding lyrics along these lines, "IhatecomputersIhatecomputersIhatecomputers.I.hate.comp.u.ters." Along with the breeze and the tango and the panting dog and E's silly whistles and lyrics, there is another sound. 

The fledgling mockingbirds are learning to fly, and they are loud-ass critters. I wish I knew what they were saying. Help me out with some captions, will you? Try making a series for all of them, or just come up with one really good one. Either is acceptable. Either will make me happy. The winner will be chosen subjectively based on whatever makes me laugh out loud.

Have fun!









Saturday, July 07, 2012

Mid Pride Peach Harvest, 2012

It's a 4th of July peach. A peach for a 4th of July peach pie. And, it tastes fantastic.

When I was choosing trees for the front orchard, I read and heard very mixed reviews of Mid Pride: it's pretty but it doesn't taste like much, it's fantastic with a balanced tang-sweet flavor, it's no good because it is too tangy, you won't believe how well it produces, and so on. Eva's Pride was an easy early choice because of its glowing reviews, but for a second, later-season peach that produced well in Southern California and tasted great, it was a tough call. I don't know what made me decide on Mid Pride; maybe it was just that Trees of Antiquity, one of my favorite bare root sources, carried it. I am, however, very glad I did plant it.

I'm about 3/4 of the way through the harvest this year, and since they've begun to ripen, I've had enough to eat a peach whenever I felt like eating a peach, to give some away, to make a batch of peach fruit leather for my brother, and for two generously proportioned peach pies.

This is a perfect pie peach. Though it becomes tender and candy-like, it holds its shape while baking. A true freestone, the fruit releases the pit immediately when sliced in two. The color is of the flesh is a clear orange with few streaks or blemishes. And, in slicing, it doesn't brown—I didn't add any lemon or citric acid as I was slicing, but the fruit kept its gorgeous golden color. I can imagine making very nice canned peaches with this variety.

Though this is not a slurp-over-the-sink peach like Eva's Pride, it is a fruit to eat more slowly and thoughtfully. It is sweet, slightly citrusy, a little mango-y, and it is heart-shaped with a cute little nipple-end.

Tree Details:
  • Mid Pride, a Zaiger introduction, has been in the ground at this property since early 2010.
  • It is on Nemaguard rootstock.
  • It is heavily mulched, and during the warm months, watered twice a week on a drip system.
  • This is its second crop. (Last year, the grand total of fruits from the tree was ONE! Yup! So much better this year.)