Long Live the Fig

Step aside, peaches, and make way for writer Audrey McDonald Atkins’ favorite fruit.

Fig illustration

Excerpt from the book “They Call Me Orange Juice” by Audrey McDonald Atkins

I come from a land where the peach is queen. There are peach parks, peach festivals, a real live peach queen, and even a water tower devoted to her luscious, ruddy being. For several months in the summer, every magazine, cooking show, and commentary is devoted to recipes for peach cobblers and peach ice creams. We are regaled with tales of eating peaches over the sink, while the juices run down your arms, and equally sappy, syrupy nostalgia, for our Southern sovereign and the barefoot days of old. 

I, however, must profess my allegiance to another: the noble fig, the oft-ignored fruit of the gods, the redheaded stepchild of Southern culture. In my world, the brown turkey fig is king. 

As the proud owner of the mother of all fig trees, my anticipation begins when I see the first tiny green shoots of leaves heralding the end of winter and the coming of warmer days. With surprising alacrity, the tree leafs out, and soon little green droplets begin to appear. That is when time stops. 

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For months, I wait. And watch. Was there a slight color change? Are they bigger? Are they growing at all?

Then, one day, all of a sudden like, I see the telltale dark purplish brown peeking out from behind a leaf! Oh, frabjous day! Forget that floozy, the tawdry peach. The queen is dead; long live the king!

Silently, unheralded by the press and stars with spatulas and catchy phrases, in all of its dusky glory, the fig has arrived to share with me its succulent, honeyed goodness. I take what I can reach, eating them directly from the tree while the birds, bees, and wasps take the rest. I envision hot jars and pans of sugar syrup, a steamy kitchen boiling with candied delicacies. 

The old fuzzy peaches become but a distant memory. My summers will always be about the fig. At least until it’s time for scuppernongs.

Born and raised in Citronelle, Atkins shares stories about growing up and living in the South in her book, “They Call Me Orange Juice,” and at her blog folkwaysnowadays.com.

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