My desire to grow and enjoy luscious figs from my own backyard has grown over several decades. I was reintroduced to this wonderful fruit by my husband's parents soon after our marriage. They lived in Houston at the time and had a huge fig tree in their backyard. It produced bushels of large green Celeste figs. The Celeste is a soft chartreuse green on the outside opening to a honey sweet meaty pink interior.
I quickly developed a case of “Fig Envy” always visiting them during fig season and returning home with carefully packed boxes of them for us to enjoy back in our home on the Oklahoma Prairie. These beautiful figs were 2 to 2½ inches across and nearly 2 inches tall. Being the gardener that I am, I began reading about ways to grow these beauties. I was hopeful as my aunt managed to grow similar figs in her Wagoner backyard. Even though Wagoner was a planting zone away from Enid, I was encouraged.
For several years I was able to travel with a small group of fellow food writers and a couple of writing coaches to inspiring destinations from California to France and Italy. We took up brief residences in everything from a vineyard home in the wine country to a lovely Chateau in Burgundy, followed by an amazing retreat on a remote Umbrian hillside. There we lived and breathed the bounty of Italian Country life feasting on figs from large trees next to our patio.
I returned home determined to grow figs of our own. I ordered a tree noting that the Brown Turkey would probably be best suited to our climate. My reading turned up one method used in Italy which helped in marginal fig-growing areas. In the fall after fruiting, the roots of the tree are severed on one side. On the opposite side, a sort of grave is dug and the tree is folded down into it and buried for the winter.
Well-marked in the garden, it is brought upright in the spring to thrive again. Apparently these Italian growers never met an Oklahoma gopher! In my garden they obviously got quite cozy with my little tree and devoured every last twig and root of the thing. After that, I bought another tree, planted it in a huge pot and dollied it in and out of the garage between seasons. Each year there were a handful of figs at best.
Two years ago, I just planted it in the very center of our garden. It thrived, grew five times its size and produced two handfuls of small figs. This year, we had enough for the raccoons, birds, squirrels and ourselves. What a treat. Figs on cereal, in oatmeal, in fresh homemade jam, for snacks and in my food writing group's favorite appetizer: Roasted prosciutto wrapped Figs with Gorgonzola.
I share this memory to encourage you to pick up a container of figs to enjoy if you see them in some local markets or even to try your luck at growing your own. If you live anywhere south or east of our home north of Enid, it is possible. If demand for them increases, we will likely see more of these beautiful fruits in the seasons ahead.
Roasted Fig and Gorgonzola with prosciutto Wrap
If you get some figs, try this amazing little combination. You could use domestic goat cheese, but if you have a source for sweet Italian Gorgonzola it is wonderful. Build these with friends while the steaks are grilling. Serve several as a special treat along side a soup or salad for a light lunch. Allow 3 or 4 per person depending on other foods you may be serving with them.
8 ripe but slightly firm figs cut in half after removing any woody stem (cut a slit in side of smaller figs to insert cheese)
3 to 4 ounces Gorgonzola cheese (Goat cheese can be used.) Plan to use about a teaspoon with each portion.
4 slices prosciutto cut or torn into strips about 1 inch wide and 4 inches long.
Cook's notes: If you have large fig leaves, they make a beautiful bed under the figs on a tray or serving platter.