When I was little and the long hot summer sun, was not burning quite so hot. My Dad drove us over to this old broken down, long forgotten field. I leaned out of the window, as my Dad got out of the car with a paper bag in his hand. I couldn't understand what he wanted here. "What's ya doing Daddy?" I asked, while my younger sister fought for room in the same car window.
"You'll see," he said, as he headed for one lone, old struggeling fig tree, that inspite if everything; disease, neglect, and lack of water, had survived and amazingly had put on fruit. The black tear drop shaped fruit hung singerly, and in small groups all over the tree. My Dad picked as many as he could reach, then when the bag was full, he brought them back to the car.
He came over to our car door, and my sister and I obediantly fell back in to our prober seats. He placed a figs in both my and my sister's little hands, and said with his Tennesse twang, "Here girls, this here's a fig, and this is how you eat it. You break them open, and you eat the insides!" He then demonstrated the eating, and made a slurping noise as he consumed the fruit.
I still remember how the fig felt; still holding the sun's warmth in it, and how it fit my small child's hand. Dark purple to black in color, the fig had a some-what flat bottom, and came to a point on top with a little stem on it. Some of the juices were oozing out in little droplets, advertising the sweetness trapped inside. My sister and I broke open our own figs, and bent to eat them. We looked at eat other "mmmmmm!" I still remember the taste; warm, and sticky, but very sweet, with a kinda nutty flavor.
Dad then looked out across that old field and got this faraway look in his eyes, that said more than anything he was looking not with with his eyes, but with his memory. Then he said "This here orchard, girls, use ta be the biggest fig orchard in the world! It use ta reach from Madera (Ca)all the way ta Fresno(Ca)."
Later after we all ate our fill of the figs, Mom made jam out of the left overs. That way we had a last taste of figs, and a last taste of summer, for at least part of that winter.
When I was grown I had a chance to look up that old orchard, and I thought I found it too. But years later after I found the figs in the super market, and started to write about the figs, I did some research on the web and couldn't find that particular orchard that my Dad spoke of.
There were fig orchards planted in Madera and Fresno area, all the way back to at least 1890. In Madera, not much remains of these orchards today, but In Fresno, there are some fig trees still hanging on, in some for long gotten field. But they are gradually being torn-out, to be replaced with more housing development, and shopping malls. Some of these places will use the name fig, as part of it's name, to keep their rual feel(Like fig garden village).
The good news is; figs are still in Madera County, going East out of town toward the foots hills, are realitivly new fig orchards. There is 8,425 acres of figs grown Madera county. There is a fig advisory board, and for the first time a fig fest, held this past Aug. 14, 2004, in Fresno at the Vinyard farmers market. I'm sorry I missed it!The figs that had me so mesmerised in the supper market were not the ones I remembered, they were called brown turkey fig. Not the black mission figs I think my Dad's were, nor were they as sweet and sticky as how I remembered either. But at least they were a fig, and had a figgy taste.
My Dad passed away in the wettest September on record in 1982, from colon cancer.
I still miss my Dad.