August 17, 2010

Saintly Figs

Ok, maybe saintly isn't the word for them, consecrated? Except they weren't actually growing in the cemetery, so maybe not that either.

I love old cemeteries of any kind. I find them peaceful and beautiful with their overgrown plants and their hard to read gravestones. One of my favorite places in the world is a tiny cemetery tucked into a hillside int he Wicklow Mountains. In college, Will and I used to take out lunches to one on the University of Oregon campus and sprawl out on the shady grass between the tombs. But to combine an old cemetery and a fig tree, well, now you're talking!

Last summer one of our neighbors turned me onto a fig tree that overhangs into a nearby cemetery. It is growing in a garden next to the cemetery who's ground is much lower than that of the level of the graves, making the upper branches easy to reach and the figs easy to harvest. Perfect, except by the time I learned all of this last year, the figs were all but gone and I was only able to bring home enough for a few mornings breakfast. This year I was determined to get up there when the tree was bursting with ripe fruit.

This morning Nigella and I set off for our walk with a big basket and crossed fingers, and boy did we hit the jackpot. Because I know that there are other who pick from this tree (the owners have given full blessing, they don't like figs - crazy people!) I only took the fruit from one of the many branches. But even with the one branch limit, I was able to fill my basket up with fat, firm fruit, perfect for a second batch of my grandmothers dried figs. Heaven. Of course, after I'd finished picking and was attempting to hold the leash and basket with sticky hands, I realized that some dude had been sitting under the next tree over reading to himself while I chatted to the fruits I was picking about how pretty they were. So now there's one more person in Charlottesville who thinks I'm nuts.

The last batch turned out exceedingly well. The figs were smaller to start with the the variety that grew on my grandmother's tree, so the dried figs are only about half the size, but they taste almost exactly the same, and I've already worked my way through a third of the batch, which doesn't bode well for my plan of having enough dried fruit to get me through the winter. But hey, a few more early morning tromps through the cemetery and I might make a dent in the amount of figs we consume throughout the year.

My garden is coming to the end of it's season and I have to say I learned a lot about growing vegetables in Virginia. Corn, for example, will need to be planted in a more sheltered area (as seen in the total destruction of the main crop during the microburst, whaaaa) The number of tomato plants could easily be doubled, or tripled, if I want to make sauce. The sauce I made a few weeks ago was delicious, really and truly yummy, but it only made one large jar, which we finished off last night in a lasagna. Kale is crazily hardy, if only I can find something to do with it. Pumpkin vines whithered in the heat while squash and cucumbers went bonkers. Next year I'll want more pepper plants, more herbs and probably less carrots since I'm the only one who really likes them anyway. The popcorn was a hit, the beans went out of control and were all ripe at the same time, so next year I'll plant them in succession.

I'm puttering with the idea of pickled squash, or maybe canned squash if I can get my hands on a pressure canner for a few days. and Evelyn and I made a jar of grape jelly this weekend using the grapes from Will's "vineyard". One jar because, well, his vineyard is two and a half (the half is so little it didn't produce any grapes this year) young plants. That and Evie discovered that Nigella really likes grapes, so a good third of what we did manage to grow went to the dog.

It seems weird that, technically, the summer is almost over. Or at least the gardening part of the summer. Not that there wont be more canning to do in the next few weeks. In fact, the rest of August and September will probably see our pantry fuller than it's been all summer, starting with a fruit share that I've ordered for tomorrow and carrying on through the rest of the peaches, plums and apples. But school begins for both kids next week, my boy turns eight (EIGHT!) tomorrow and despite the heat, my mind is starting to think fall. Now if it would only cool down enough to actually feel like fall...That, would be fantastic.