A Fig Year

fig tree

Oh, ye faithless.

I was considering uprooting my fig tree because it has only eked out a handful of tiny figs during it’s five year life when,  Eureka!  It redeemed itself in my faithless eyes, producing a bumper crop.  Its place in my garden, in the shadow of Notre Dame de Louviers, is assured.

figs in heart dish

Bumper crop is a dramatic way of describing the, thus far, 48 figs that we’ve harvested. But it feels like a bumper crop compared with the paltry few the tree has produced up until now.  Don’t get me wrong – each fig has been a gift and a mystery; a gift, because these little Green Ischia (Ficus Carica) figs are soft, tender little orbs of seductive sweetness, replete with honey-like flavor, their vivid green exteriors like worn silk,  their lush, soft, interiors blood red.  A mystery because there have been so few.

The paysagiste, or landscape gardener, I consulted looked at the healthy, prospering tree, shrugged his shoulders, and said it must be the “couronne d’air” or draft that swirls around the tree that was inhibiting production.

I’ve lived in France a long time and am more than familiar with the French anathema for the “couronne d’air”. I didn’t, until this year, realize it extends beyond human health to the plant world, and I wondered how this could be true, or what I might do about it since  I can’t tuck a scarf around its branches.

Then just the other day, I investigated at very close range.  Hidden amongst the leaves was the bumper crop and, guess what?  Most of them were soft.  Beside myself, I picked one and ate it.  The rest is sweet, succulent, luscious, seductive history.

figs in saucepan

There were actually too many to enjoy fresh and, like all figs, when they are ripe enough to harvest, they’re almost too ripe to keep.  I was going out of town so I decided to preserve them the way my grandmother did, with some candied ginger and a bit of lemon.  They lose their beautiful color when cooked, a shame, but their flavor stays intact and they are even more honey-like than before.

They make a luscious compote which I am serving as a savory side dish, garnished with slivers of candied ginger and fleur de sel. So far, it’s been perfect with grilled duck breast. It’s good over yogurt, too, and spread on pastry and baked into an apple tart. You’ll think of ways to use it too!

Bon Appétit!



This will keep, refrigerated, for up to one week.  Serve it over yogurt, as a filling for a fruit tart, as a side dish with grilled duck.   You will want to adjust the flavor of the compote to your own figs, and your own palate.

12 ounces (360g) fresh figs, trimmed and cut in half
3 tablespoons water
One round of candied ginger, diced
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, or to taste

  1.  Combine the figs, water, and ginger in a small, heavy saucepan and set the mixture over medium heat. Stir. When the water begins to boil, stir the figs, reduce the heat to low and cook until they soften and turn a reddish brown and all the water has been incorporated into the figs, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally
  2. Remove from the heat.  Taste, and add the lemon juice if desired

About 1 cup (250g) fig compote

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