2013 has been an unusual year by the standards of the last decade. Record rains in March mean the water table has been restored to levels not seen for years. A cold spring has resulted in everything running some 2 weeks late, including the vendanges, although touch wood the grapes are healthy so far. Something invariably fails each season, but this year there are extra casualties. Commercial and wild almonds are non-existent due to a false spring back in February. Most varieties of apricots failed to set because of rain and cold. There are few wild quinces on the way. Pomegranates struggle to ripen during the best years and seem to have no chance now.
On a more positive note the improved water table along with a few summer downpours have created a bumper year for blackberries - plentiful and not the usual pip-bullets. Earlier in the summer local cherries has a bonanza. Now figs are also doing well with some particularly water stressed trees making a comeback.
Here are 10 factoids and observations on local figs.
- Many varieties have two seasons. The first, typically towards the end of June, sees what are called figue fleurs sprout from last year's new growth. After a pause that can be several weeks these are followed by the main crop. Figue fleurs make for particularly fragrant and succulent eating.
- The commune has perhaps 30 wild fig trees that are both accessible (i.e. next to a lane) and reliable croppers. About half of these have two seasons.
- Some trees never seem to produce figs. Others only produce inedible dry fibrous specimens (caprifigs).
- All figs start off small and pastel green. As they ripen they end up various shades of purple, reds, grey and green through to yellow. The French classify them as figues vertes (ou blanches), figues grises (ou rouges) et figues noires (ou violettes) basically green/white, grey/red and black/violet.
- Some figs ripen and eventually drop, others rot on the tree while a few, typically the purple varieties, dry in situ given the right weather.
- A tree is capable of ripening a fig in a few days so returning a couple a days later in search of more ripe specimens is worthwhile.
- Most trees seem to take a sabbatical occasionally and produce next to nothing; often the year following a bumper crop.
- Identifying varieties by inspection and leaf patterns is tricky and near impossible for purple and green varieties.Obvious varieties include Madeleine des Deux Saisons and Grise de Saint-Jean (9 pm and 11 pm respectively in the picture).
- Green varieties have one season and are the last to get going. They continue well after other varieties are exhausted and large trees with favourable weather can continue to ripen their crop into the second half of October.
- I find the purple varieties have the most complex flavour. Grise de Saint-Jean are the sweetest. Slightly under ripe green varieties make the best confiture.