The Cottage Smallholder


stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

fig on plateI love figs.When I bite into the first ripe fig of the season, the pleasure is overwhelming. There is something very sensual about this fruit. I bet Anthony and Cleopatra had a bowl of figs on their bedside table.

Of course it’s the leaf, not the fruit, which has been endlessly immortalised in stone. I’ve never quite worked that out. Vine leaves are prettier and much more delicate. Perhaps the waxiness of the fig leaf was easier to carve.

Biting into that first ripe September fig is an experience that is both familiar yet curiously unexpected. This is not a fruit to grab and munch. The texture, the soft sweetness of the juice surprises. Figs might tempt me to steal but they force me to linger. No wonder it’s a favourite with wasps.

Our fig tree lives in a large half barrel, in a sunny spot just outside the back door. It was happy for three or four years. Now it’s outgrown its pot and is screaming for a new spot. Thinking of figs, I went to look at our tree when I came back for lunch today. Ignored for most of the summer, the last two sunny days had finally taken their toll. The branches and leaves were droopy and listless. I poured two buckets of water into the barrel and by the evening our fig tree had perked up. But there will be no harvest this year.

Fretting about the tree over supper, we suddenly thought of the perfect new spot for it, on the sunny side of the pond. It should thrive there. We’ll move it tomorrow. I can see it now, next summer, heavy with fruit and flourishing. Meanwhile, I am eyeing the plump ripening figs on our neighbour’s tree next door.


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  1. We have a fig tree in our garden but every year I despair as scores of small, hard, green figs simply fall off the branches onto the ground where they rot into the soil. I have been told by a former neighbour from Cyprus that figs will never ripen here (south east England, coast, warmest spot in the land supposedly) as it is not warm enough nor is it dry enough.

    So what to do with all our figs? It seems such a waste when I could surely do something with them?

    A month ago, I plucked a single, plum-sized fruit from the tree, it had been on the branch for what seemed like months and was starting to go soggy. I figured that equalled ‘ripe’ albeit that it was still green, so I split it open and tried it. Lovely. Why will none of the others ripen or turn purple?

    Answers on a postcard ploease…

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