I still think of the summer of 1984 as the summer of figs. Blissfully fat black figs, their soft skins splitting with ripeness, scarlet floral centres meltingly, drippingly sweet.
I had arrived in Ibiza with a pack full of Brazilian bikinis, hoping to make enough money to see me through the summer there.
Alas, people in Ibiza at that time fell into two camps – the trendy glamour set, who never bothered with bathers, and the package tourists, who couldn’t possibly fit into my scant, sexy bikinis. And so I spent most of my time up in the hills, hanging out with my three housemates and their various tribes of children.
About 100 metres from the whitewashed stone cottage that was my home for the summer, a lone fig tree stood like some kind of lush tropical icon in the arid Mediterranean landscape. Each morning at around nine, with the sun just starting to warm the ground, I would make my pilgrimage to the tree, armed with a stack of books and a pillow. In the early morning, the figs were dewy, cool and fresh. By midday, they had warmed inside and the juices had started to run. By late afternoon their taste had a sweetness that was almost jam-like, pure juicy, dribbling warm honey. I just couldn’t get enough of them, day after day, a whole summer long. Even now, more than 30 years later, the whiff of a ripe fig transports me back to that magical tree and that Ibizan summer.
Like most Mediterranean islands, Ibiza offers the perfect climate for figs. Its long, hot, dry summers allow the fruit to ripen without risk of rot. Turkey and other areas of the near and middle east are the fig’s native land, and today the reputation of Smyrna figs still reigns supreme.
Here in New Zealand we have some wonderful fig varieties that perform well in this less-than-Mediterranean of climates. In Wanaka I have planted five fig varieties but the star performer that consistently delivers ripe, sweet fruit is the Mrs Williams variety.
Around Auckland and up north you will find a lot of Wild Brown Turkey figs, and down in Hawkes Bay the climate is hot and dry enough for black-skinned, scarlet-fleshed Mission figs.
If you’re lucky enough to have access to a fig tree this summer, here are some of my favourite ways of enjoying them.
Crispy fig and honey nests
Preserved figs in ginger syrup
Mozzarella, figs and prosciutto