What’s for Dinner?

Mr. Muscle came this morning and whipped my three raised beds into shape in time for planting. You can almost see the food sprouting out of them already–peas, beans, carrots, kale, zucchini (ONE plant only), pumpkins, spinach, lettuce, beets,  and radishes. Three long boxes, each divided in half–it’s like six blank canvases. My fingers are just itching to paint-plant.

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Three raised beds crafted by the Potter many years ago.

But I have other diners at my table to consider. Because the rabbits also relish my lettuce, spinach, carrots, beets, and peas, those seeds get planted in the one box that has a low fence around it. One year I was able to plant a “spicy lettuce mix” in an unfenced area and they didn’t touch it–but it was too spicy for me, too, so that was a lost effort.

For years the peas mysteriously disappeared every spring–every single seed–and sometimes before they had even sprouted out of the ground. I suspected the rabbits of hopping the fence, but nothing else was touched. Eventually I noticed a Stellar’s Jay methodically working his way down the row of peas. Now I also cover the whole fenced area with a berry net.

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Crocuses nestled up against some hyachinths

I found another mystery last year when I noticed many of my beautiful purple crocuses ever so neatly clipped off. Already this year, the bed is looking like a bridal path of scattered purple petals. The culprit? Rabbits again. Turns out their tastes run beyond veggies. Some of the crocuses are eaten right down to the ground.

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No way could I blame the disappearing little green figs on the rabbits. Every fall, after the fig tree drops its leaves, it holds onto a second crop of small, hard green figs that never develop. Later we rake up a lot off the ground, but I’ve noticed squirrels in the tree making off with the rest.

After the peas are up several inches, I can move the netting onto the blueberries. Small birds still figure out intricate, secret routes underneath the netting, but I manage to save some for myself this way.

The August a flock of crows was slashing their way through my beeautiful juicy yellow pears was also the month a crow died in my neighborhood–by sheer coincidence, I swear. When we hung the two wings in the tree, the crows shrieked for a time, and then left. I hange those two wings each summer and I’ve never seen a crow in the tree since.

One summer I saw signs from a bear underneath an old apple tree that had several broken limbs. Every few years a few beautiful deer wander through and sample from the different apple trees. I figure they’re comparison shopping.

The wildlife and I exist side by side. I love seeing them all, even the crows. We enjoy trying to outwit each other, making life entertaining for all of us critters.

Do You Give a Fig about Figs?

“I don’t give a fig about….”

Ah, but you would if you grew them! Then you’d give figs your full attention.

Toshiba Digital CameraHowever, yes, if you lived during the time of Shakespeare, you might be quite comfortable using that phrase, “I don’t care a fig….,” as it was a common expression. It came from the Spanish word Fico (fig) which had come to mean a particular gesture. By putting your thumb between your first and second fingers and thrusting it at someone, you could send a message of contempt.

But the gesture precedes Shakespeare’s time. The word sycophant (brown-noser or bootlicker) comes from the Greek word sykophantes, which meant “one who shows the fig,” a vulgar gesture.

The dark side of fig history? Perhaps

Ah, but the bright side!

In late summer, my fig tree becomes the center of my yard and garden. The ripening plum and pear trees, quite beautiful themselves, bow down to the fig. And why not? They’re relatively rare. You’re probably more familiar with dried figs or fig newtons. Few people I know have ever tasted a fig–and when presented with the opportunity, they tend to take a step back and change the subject.

But consider this bit of fig history. Fossil records of figs date back to about 9300 B.C. They were likely one of the first plants cultivated by humans, in the area that is Egypt today. Ancient writings, including the Bible, often refer to fig trees. Buddha achieved enlightenment while sitting under a bodhi tree, a large sacred fig tree. The Greeks passed laws forbidding the export of their highest quality figs. The Romans? They considered figs to be sacred.

I hate to admit how long it took me to develop a taste for them, and now they’re my favorite fruit of all my trees. Figs contain potassium (which helps lower blood pressure), dietary fiber, Vitamin B6, copper, manganese, and pantothenic acid.

I’ve seen figures that indicate there are over 700 varieties of fig, or Ficus, trees. They like dry, sunny sites, so my tree thrives in its southern exposure. Able to tolerate seasonal drought, they’re found growing wild in the Middle East. Today California is one of the largest producers of figs, along with Turkey, Greece, Portugal, and Spain.

Deep-rooted and aggressive, fig trees are not recommended for use in urban areas. I occasionally panic when I notice my tree’s rapid growth. The last few years, the tree had escaped its cement block enclosure and was headed toward the drain field at a good clip. I spent quite a bit of time cutting it back last fall. This summer it produced its heaviest crop ever. Turns out that fruit sets on new growth, so when I cut it back so severely, it spurred fruit production. Family and friends couldn’t keep up with them, so I hung a “Figs for Sale” sign on the mailbox and sold about ten dozen.

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Unlike most other fruit trees, the blossom of this tree is internal–a particular wasp gains entry through a small hole in the fig in order to pollinate it.

I like them best just eaten raw, right off the tree, but my Fig Heaven cookbook (“70 Recipes for the World’s Most Luscious Fruit”) suggests all kinds of mouth-watering recipes, including “Cheese-filled Fresh Figs.”

Cover of "Fig Heaven: 70 Recipes for the ...

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Goat cheese pairs especially well with figs.

Besides being connected to an obscene gesture, fig trees have another dubious cultural distinction. The leaves of the trees, so critically shaped, often covered genitals in nude sculptures and paintings. They were often added long after the creation of the original art object to “protect” innocent viewers and their souls. But besides covering privates, those leaves do a good job of covering and protecting their fruit.

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One of William Shakespeare’s characters in Antony and Cleopatra exclaimed, “O excellent! I love long life better than figs.”