Farm stays: Figs, a love story (Part I)

Road Journals Blog—I distinctly remember eating my first fresh fig. It was deep into the summer of 2002, and I was visiting the remarkable, 2-acre Alan Chadwick garden at UC Santa Cruz. One of the growers plucked a fig from a young tree and held it out to me.

I took the soft green fruit slowly, unsure. It looked nothing like the dried brown figs I had tried before. I placed it in my mouth, whole, and slowly began to chew. It was subtler than I expected, not as sweet.

Figs have a lot going on inside. | Michelle Nowak

Figs are something you tiptoe into. They don’t knock you out with powerful flavor—they seduce you with their gentle sweetness and the way they feel in your mouth: soft, slightly chewy, and with a thousand tiny crunching seeds at the end.

Same with the way they look. From the outside figs are unremarkable—small and round or pear-shaped, with smooth green or purple skin, depending on the variety.

On the inside, though, they’re beautiful like nothing else. Cut a fig in half and see the green skin ringing a layer of white flesh, from which hundreds of red and white, squeezed-together fingers point toward the center, each capped by a tiny brown seed and surrounded by sweet pink jelly.

And there’s more to the story of the lovely fig. Wherever there is fruit there was once a flower. Fig flowers, however, are invisible, unless you know where to look. That’s because figs are inverted–their small flowers form inside that smooth green skin. Some of the more widely cultivated figs are parthenocarpic, meaning they have been bred to fruit without requiring pollination. The figs that do require pollination are pollinated by tiny wasps that fly into minute holes in the bottom of the fig.

How does this fit in with farm stays? Read Figs, a love story (Part II).

Michelle Nowak is writing about farm stays for an upcoming issue of VIA.

This blog post was first published in May 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.