Friday, September 01, 2006

First Fig

I have become recently obsessed with figs.
This is a minor surprise considering both how common figs are in the gourmet circle, and how often some of my favorite literary mavens write about this provokative fruit.
Just now I was flipping through Edna St. Vincent Millay's A Few Figs From Thistles. The first two poems in the slim volume are of course First Fig and Second Fig. How strange that neither of them actually mention figs! Instead my favorite, First Fig reads:
My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends--
It gives a lovely light!
Dear Sylvia Plath wrote a bit about figs too. In a terrifying scene from The Bell Jar she imagines a fig tree where each plum fruit represents a different dream or ambition. She wants them all- the children, the job, the happy life. But can't grasp all of them. She exhausts herself trying to reach for everything.
In thinking more about figs, and fig leaves, I realize that the literary connections could likely go on and on. But I'd rather return to my recent adoration of figs.
Figs have always been something I didn't think I cared for. They were not very common growing up in the 1980s in Salt Lake City Utah. I doubt that I encountered my first fig before college, and even then it would have been a strange looking thing perched on the edge of a fruit plate.
I found black Mission figs (now my favorite) particularly repulsive: there was the dark soft exterior with the fleshy, sweet, seedy interior. It seemed, dare I say it? Sexual. I avoided them at all cost, lumping them into a category with dates, another brown sweet fruit I have no stomach for.
And then, the conversion-- or should I consider it a demise?
The local grocery store has been hosting Fig Fest 2006, complete with several varieties of figs all with the most delicious names (the Brown Turkey comes to mind). I noticed them of course, but remained aloof and disinterested.
But last week I had dinner with W and she had picked up several small green figs and brought them home for us to share. They were just ripe enough and the contrast between their grassy green skin and the figgy insides was just too much. I had to taste it.
When I did, it was like being introduced to a new friend you immediately recognize you'll get along with for life. These figs were perfect: just sweet enough for my sweet tooth, while still green and fresh enough to satisfy that part of me that longs for food grown in the dirt.
Since then I have become somewhat of a fig addict. I visit New Seasons every few days, filling my basket with a new varietal. I have loved them all, though I do profess a soft spot for the Black Mission. They are seemingly ordinary in comparison to the others but I am new to figs, and the Black Mission's beauty and sublime sweetness makes me oh-so-happy.
My only sadness? I admitted my new love to M, hoping that this fall could be filled with fig plates, fig picnics, fig picking-- he has a fig tree in his back yard! Alas, he doesn't like figs.
Suddenly defensive I said, "Who doesn't like figs?"
He gave me a very intelligent answer about how he doesn't like fruit without acid and finished by saying, "I'll be happy to watch you eat them."
This was not what I had in mind.
Now sitting alone in my apartment on a delightfully sunny Friday morning I have decided that like the grand ladies who came before me I am happy to let my love affair with figs continue. A snack composed of a few figs and contemplations about life and ambition is enough for me.

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