By Catherine Pritchard
Years ago, a visitor brought John and Kay Poulos a gift – a bit of root from a fig tree in the Greek village where John was born.
They planted the root in their back yard and it sprouted into a large healthy tree.
Decades later, the tree continues to thrive and produce delicious green-skinned figs that typically ripen in August.
Nearby is another, much younger tree which produces red-skinned figs that typically ripen in early summer.
The two trees provide tasty snacks all summer long.
The same thing happens in yards around the area. Some belong to families with no connection to Greece or other Mediterranean nations where fig trees are common. But many belong to or were originally planted by Greeks who emigrated to this country and who wanted to have a taste of home in their yard.
Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, it seemed that just about every Greek family around had at least one fig tree in their yard, said Amphitrite Manuel, who moved to Fayetteville in 1961 with her husband, Chrysostom. He was the priest at Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Fayetteville and Amphitrite, who taught at the church’s Greek School, regularly visited the homes of parishioners.
Inge Hondros, a native of northern Germany, had never seen figs until she married the son of Greek emigrés and moved into the home on Oakridge Avenue where they’d planted several fig trees in the late ‘40s or early ‘50s.
“They were really established,” she said of the trees. “What they’d stuck in the ground had grown like weeds.”
The trees produced different types of figs with different ripening times throughout the summer. All were sweet and delicious, remembered Hondros, who no longer lives in that home.
“You have to acquire a taste for figs,” she said. “I love them.”
It took Lexi Hasapis a while to develop that taste.
Her father, who was born in Greece, loved figs. But as a child, Lexi Hasapis found the fruit too weird-looking to be at all appetizing.
“They kind of scared me,” she said. “They were fuzzy and they looked gross. Little did I know they were delicious when they were ripe.”
Back then, she found it much more fun to squash figs – until she and a friend were caught taking figs off a tree in the VanStory neighborhood and smashing them into the sidewalk.
“We got into major trouble,” Hasapis recalled.
Her view of figs changed about seven or eight years ago when she ate a grilled cheese-and-fig sandwich. “I was, like, ‘Oh, these aren’t what I thought they were,’” she said.
She started experimenting with fig recipes, including baking fresh figs with bacon, cheese and honey and making fig pudding. Now, she’s a fig fan and gets her supply from friends with bountiful trees.
“They’re kind of an underrated and misunderstood fruit,” Hasapis said.
Figs can be eaten right off the tree when ripe. Because color isn’t helpful in determining ripeness, you have to feel the fruit gently to see if it’s soft, Kay Poulos said. If it’s hard, you have to leave it on the tree. Figs stop ripening after they’re picked.
Amphitrite Manuel had such a big crop of figs this year on the three trees in her yard that she made preserves. She also made dozens of loaves of pear cake with the pears off of her large pear tree. The pear tree reminds her of her Greek heritage only in that she grew up eating figs, olives, oranges and lemons from the trees that grew everywhere in her native Messenia in southwestern Greece. When she moved to New York at age 20, she was surprised to see trees along the Hudson River that had no fruit at all.
Fig trees can flourish in Fayetteville’s climate. She also has a small lemon tree and a small orange tree growing in pots, as well as a small olive tree growing in her front yard. The latter won’t likely produce fruit but the sight of it makes her happy. As does the taste of figs.
“They’re delicious,” she said. “It’s just a touch of home.”
Source: Genius Kitchen
Source: Southern Living
Fig Caprese Salad
Tear mozzarella into medium pieces and arrange on a platter. Tuck figs around cheese and scatter basil over top. Season with pepper and lots of salt. Drizzle generously with oil.
Grilled Cheddar and Fig Jam Sandwich
One crusty rustic roll
Two tablespoons top-quality fig jam or fig preserves
Two teaspoons fragrant extra-virgin olive oil
Flaky sea salt
Three ounces artisan American Cheddar, cut into 3 thick slices