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Filtering by Tag: figs

Today's pick from my "orto" (vegetable garden)


Someone asked me the other day how much food I typically get from my Oakland orto. Of course it varies depending on the time of the year, but during the summer I typically pick enough for family dinner every night. As an example I thought I'd show you what I picked from my garden today, July 22, 2010. I picked enough romano beans to cook and serve as a salad for dinner:

This handful of gorgeous zucchini blossoms I will save for my Saturday cooking class:

Lots of figs, both Adriatic and Black Mission, from my trees:

I also picked two cucumbers, three zucchini and two eggplants, which I will use in a pasta dish tonight.

Oh! I forgot! I even got a basketful of strawberries from our strawberry bushes:

and lots of sweet sweet Italian prunes. Take a look at how many are on just one branch!

There is a lot of satisfaction in growing your own vegetables. I hope that I have convinced some of you to give it a try, even if you have only pots on a terrace. In fact I extend my own garden by planting in pots; all my basil and hot peppers ended up in pots this year. I even put a cherry tomato plant in a pot, and take a look at it. It is the first one to have ripe tomatoes!

I also get eggs every day now. Here are the eggs just from the last three days. The beautiful blue-green ones  were laid by Gelsomina, our Ameraucana chicken.

My family can almost live off our small garden during the summer months, especially now with the addition of those eggs.

Crazy about figs


When I lived in Calabria as a child I was surrounded by fig trees all around our farm, and I never could decide which type to pick from first. The best fig that is grown in Calabria is the "dottato" variety, known in this country as the "kadota" fig.  These have a green skin with a golden interior.  They are excellent fresh as well as great for drying, which is what my grandparents used to do with them.

When I moved to California as a teenager, my dad planted some cuttings from our friends' trees.  Then, when my husband and I built our house in the Oakland hills, the first thing we planted were two fig trees.  One was a black mission and the other was one that my dad grafted into two varieties, the "kadota" and the "adriatic".

Fig trees produce two crops a year.  Here in Northern California the first crop lasts from late June to July and the second crop from late August through the beginning of October.  The first crop is borne on the twigs grown the previous year and the second crop grows on the new wood. Here are photos of my figs:

Adriatic Figs

Kadota Figs. Note the drop of honey on the blossom end of the center fig. Perfection!

Black Mission Fig:

I have been picking my first crop of the Adriatic variety for the past two weeks. The black mission figs are just starting to ripen this week. My favorite way to eat them is right off the tree, fully ripe.

Most figs sold at the store are underripe, so try to go to a farmers' market to buy them.  A ripe fig is soft to the touch; you should see some cracks in the skin. If you see that little tear of syrup falling from the blossom end you have a perfectly sweet fig.

Calabrians don't really cook with figs unless they are making jam or using them in a dessert.  As for savory dishes, I will wrap some prosciutto around a cut fig, or slice them in a salad of arugula with some prosciutto.

The majority of the figs grown in Calabria are dried in the sun and are nowadays packaged in beautiful confectioneries.   My grandmother would braid the dried figs in various shapes: coroncine (wreaths) around stems of fragrant myrtle; spinapisci (fish spines) in which dried figs are threaded around a sharpened reed in the shape of a fish spine, one fig to the left and one to the right;  and crocette (crosses), in which two figs are split and stuffed with pieces of walnut or an almond and crossed in the form an "x".  These are then all baked.

There are two firms in Calabria around Belmonte Calabro and Amantea that do a beautiful job packaging dried figs: Colavolpe and Fratelli Marano. They shape them in the traditional forms, but also stuff them with almonds and a piece of candied orange peel, dipping them in dark chocolate, my favorite way to eat them dried.

If you can't find a tree-ripened fig in your area you can still enjoy the dried figs of Calabria that are now available in this country.  Here is a website where you can buy Calabrian fig confectioneries:

My vegetable garden in June


I promised you in May that I would post some pictures of how my vegetable garden looks after a month.  Compare the photos in the previous post to those below to see the difference a mere four weeks make.  It is amazing to see seedlings change into fully grown plants and start producing fresh summer vegetables. The zucchini are producing beautiful blossoms and fruit.  The romano beans have grown to the top of the wood poles and the beans are ready to be picked.

The tomato plants are on their way.  My dad builds the entire trellis with recycled material he has around my garden, like wood poles, metal posts left over from when we built my house, and left over irrigation tubing.  He buys nothing and recycles everything from year to year.

The poles are about 6 - 7 feet high--that's as high as we can reach to tie the tomato stems--and planted about 6 feet apart.  These poles support the horizontal bars, which he makes out of wood sticks or tubing, are placed about 12 inches apart.  When the plants start producing, the trellis looks like a wall of tomatoes. You will have to wait until August to see what I am describing.  In the meantime, if you have planted San Marzano tomatoes and would like to use this time-honored Calabrian technique, please feel free.

Take a look at the picture below to see how my dad ties the tomato stems to the trellis. He uses strips of his old worn shirts!

We always remove all the suckers once the tomato plant is well on its way up the trellis. A tomato sucker, or side shoot, is a growth that appears between a branch and the main stem. Here is a picture of what it looks like:

We leave suckers on the lowest portion of the tomato plant, as many as five or six,  and these become the main branches that will produce tomatoes.  All the other suckers that are produced by these stems will be removed as the tomato stems climb up the trellis.   You want to prune the suckers when they are small, no more than two to four  inches.  Suckers this size can be snapped off with your fingers, but suckers any thicker than a pencil should be cut with a pruner or knife to avoid damaging the plant.

The eggplant and pepper plants are growing well and my two cucumber plants are on their way to producing:

This is the best time of the year in my garden; I get to pick fresh vegetables on a daily basis.

Even my fig trees are ready to produce wonderful sweet figs. They will be ripe enough to eat right off the tree by next week.

I have two large fig plants, a Kadota (green-skinned and golden flesh) and a black mission tree. I'll have more on figs in a future post.