04 Sep Felicia’s Fignolias
by Felicia Mitchell
Keddy lives in Houston. Her Celeste fig bears a fair-sized crop each year, and she always tells me about it. Envious, I listen. Barbara lives down the road from me in Meadowview; her Chicago fig, suitable for our Appalachian climate, produces an abundance of figlets that ripen minutes before first frost. Susan in South Carolina has a Brown Turkey that I visit when I’m down south, even if Susan isn’t home. Once I snitched a plump fig.
My Brown Turkey is the biggest tree of all; it has a place of honor in my front yard, right smack dab in the middle of the yard. Every year, its branches reach up even higher, and the leaves get even bigger than the year before; my fig tree could clothe all of Paradise. The problem is that it can’t feed a soul.
My tree, no matter how lush its foliage, never bears fruit. After experimenting with various theories, and even more varieties of fertilizer, I have concluded that my fig won’t bear because it just doesn’t get enough sun. I live, after all, in a modest holler of a yard where the sun doesn’t shine all that much.
I have even decided that it’s unfair for me to expect my fig to perform. I truly need to dig it up and give it to my friend Robert, who has enough property to cater to a green thumb. Robert, who is always inclined to share tomatoes and peppers, would surely share a crop of figs.
Things don’t happen overnight in this neck of the woods. Deciding to uproot my fig and give it away, for example, is just the first step. I may have to go through a few more experiments of my own before I dig up this beloved tree that reminds me that I, too, could grow my favorite food if I just tried a little harder — or cut down all the other trees in my woods. I may need a few years to get used to the idea that my favorite source of poetic inspiration needs to go.
Meanwhile, I eat figs whenever I get the chance. People give them to me, and sometimes I find them in stores, sheltered in paper shells like porcelain curios. I cater to my need to make and eat fig preserves by reconstituting dried figs, ones I have found from California to Turkey. (I know better than to steal all of Barbara’s figs, then turn around and give her fresh fig preserves for Christmas.)
My friends are kind enough to keep me posted about the latest in fig news, so when Keddy sent me a clipping about Fignolias, I accepted the challenge to reconstitute not just figs but history. Fignolias were treats produced by the Angleton Fig Company in Texas, just before the Great Depression relieved most people of the means to indulge in chocolate-covered fig treats.
Of course I had some dried figs on hand (a 14-ounce package of Jenny preservative-free Kalamata figs from Greece), so I had to give the recipe a try. I took the figs from the refrigerator and cut off the tips, reminding myself for the umpteenth time just how much a fig stem looks like an umbilical cord. As I was cutting the stems with tiny scissors, I boiled water for the double boiler and melted four squares of bittersweet chocolate.
Since I love cinnamon-laced Mexican chocolate, I tossed in more than a teaspoon (less than a tablespoon) of freshly ground cinnamon and a dollop of vanilla extract made with Madagascar bourbon and Tahitian vanilla beans.
Then I dipped the figs and set them aside to cool. Once cool, the thick coating of chocolate formed a succulent shell to encase each fig, which I lightly tossed in organic confectioner’s sugar. How can I begin to describe the way the dark chocolate framed the poignantly sweet figs? I ate some, and my husband at some, but I mailed most of them to Keddy in Houston with a hand-made label heralding my latest fig masterpiece: Felicia’s Fignolias, Made in Meadowview.
I’m not sure when I’ll be ready to go back to making preserves. As for my fig tree out in the front yard, it inspires me to write poems and find interesting alternatives to the taste of a fresh fig plucked from one’s very own tree – a taste I have carried with me and craved since childhood, when figs grew heavy in yard and in my hands.
Photo: Kelly Cline
Poet and author Felicia Mitchell lives in rural southwestern Virginia, where she teaches creative writing at Emory & Henry College and writes a weekly column for Washington County News.