In 1941, George Schreiber planted a fig tree in his front yard, right on the property line. It was a protected spot for a tree that was borderline for it’s planting zone, between two houses and near the road. It throve. Eighteen years ago, we bought his old house and ate our first fresh figs, which were just coming ripe as we moved in. Our fig tree is the largest in Corvallis, even after Figpocolypis, the very cold winter when many trees suffered a great deal of damage. Ours lost some branch tips and took a while to push through last spring, but it is still going strong. There is a good crop of fruit this year.
Our fig is well known in the neighborhood. We have a mosque down the street and many Middle Eastern students living near by. For them, the fig is a taste of home; for four years, the same family came by every fall to pick on the weekend they brought their son down to school. When he graduated, they gave us an art poster in thanks. Other people pick the low hanging fruit as they walk by and, occasionally, a car will drive by slowly, hoping to catch someone out with a ladder. We are always generous with the fruit. We cannot begin to eat it all, even after drying and fig jam, and it is good karma to give something away. Right now, the tree is divided into three zones: low hanging for people walking by, ladder range for human consumption, and high in the branches for the Cedar Waxwings, which are feasting on the over ripe fruits. Figs will ripen slowly over several weeks, holding on until the fall rains come in. Then, it swells and drops to the ground as soggy fig bombs, nasty and squishy, and the harvesting season is done.
Pick figs before dinner, as it is an overnight process to dry them. Cut off the stem and quarter the fruit. Spread the fig open to expose more of the inner seedy sweetness to the dryer. Turn the dryer on high, place it somewhere you want the bit of warmth during the night, and begin. Check in the morning before heading off to work. Figs are done even the very ripe and sweet ones feel a little damp but the rest are chewy. Store in quart canning jars on the shelf.The over ripe ones never feel dry, but they will not mold in the basement.
Dried figs are the best fruit for those awful moments when you are hungry but dinner is still a couple of hours away.They have staying power.