The Little Fig Tree That Could


This Midwestern-born girl picked her share of backyard produce growing up, but nothing compares to the bounty I’ve had the luxury of sampling in my Brooklyn neighborhood. I’ve hardly had to stroll past the doorway to do so.  First it was the grape vines that climbed, untended, up the entire back of our brownstone, producing heavy bunches of fruit that I could pretty much pick by leaning out my third-story bedroom window. Grapes vines and fig trees can be found throughout the borough, remnants of the wave of Italian immigrants that once dominated the area.  The plants’ ability to not only survive,  but thrive with little or no care through rounds of subsequent property owners has always seemed a wonder to me.(Grapevines—like the rose bushes that bloom wildly in abandoned yards—betray their delicate and needy reputations.)

A puny little fig tree huddled in the backyard next door for years, fairly swallowed by the brush and weeds that grew up as the brownstone sat empty in the midst of an extended estate dispute. But the house  finally underwent renovation over the winter, including a thorough cleanup of the yard. And like a princess freed from imprisonment in the tower, the little fig tree burst forth in joy, reaching up to the sky,  throwing out lush branches and full leaves, and blooming with abandon, as if in thanks those who had rescued it from slow strangulation.

Lucky for me, the brownstone’s owner isn’t especially enamored of figs, and she took up my offer to harvest some, keeping her patio free of splattered fruit in the bargain. Without a lot of time to cook this week, a couple batches have been cleaned, cut up, and frozen for later use. Others will serve well for experiments.  In the meantime, it feels like the lush life to have so many figs on hand that I can grab a handful to snack on plain, or top with some granola and yogurt for breakfast. Ah, summer.


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