The Fig Tree: A Story of Family and Resiliency

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Sunlight steals kisses on my skin as it escapes my grasp through the leaves of the palm fronds above me. Streaming through just enough to cast shadows of my figure on the ground, the Neverland version of myself, an extension that never quite moved as I thought it should. At eight years old, I worried about the imminent changes that were to be made in my life and so, I stopped. I stopped in this little plot of soil in my backyard and I soaked up every scent, every image that could not escape by grasp. My mom always insisted a wash was necessary, but for my dad and I, a quick brush on our sleeve meant the fruit was as pure to eat as could be. “Who wants some tiin?” my dad would ask. Pronounced “teen,” it is the Arabic word for the bushel of the soft, tear-drop shaped fruit he carried in his arms. The figs, blended with earthy greens and rich purples, were overflowing, a testament to our prosperity, its fertility mirroring that of our family — my baby sister was to be born later that year. Our tree had been ripe with fruit this year, a tribute to its final year in this house, our final year in this house. Standing resolute in its own corner of the yard, it soaked in the late summer sunshine, favoring direct sunlight, and, despite the nutrient-poor clay soil in which it was birthed, grew still, resilient against the harsh rays and poor diet that would bring harm to our mortal bodies — but not a fig tree.

A fig opens up like the bloom of a flower. It’s soft skin-like petals surrounding a center of brilliant color and the seeds of a legacy to be carried forth. Though native to the Middle East and Asian regions, our fig tree took quite well to the Mediterranean climate of our Southern California home. With each sumptuous bite, my dad would be brought back to his small, mountain-top hometown in Lebanon, inhaling the sweet aroma of the fig trees and cedar-lined streets so vivid in his memory. And I, with a fig in my hand, carry the generations before me. It was the same fruit my tata (tay-ta) would bake into cookies for her grandchildren, and the same still, as the one in my hand, thousands of miles away. Rich with antioxidants and nutrients, the fig has nourished me as my own mother has, giving me the same strength it carries, to flourish and prosper in any environment I might face.

Moving away from my beloved childhood home was difficult for many reasons. I was losing the comfort of a home that I knew, and that knew me. All of its dents and scratches were our memories, memories of riding my bike in the house without my mother’s permission and of spilled juice on the carpet from one of our PB&J fueled picnics. I was going to be thrown into clay soil in direct sunlight with little water to wet my dried up sense of belonging, and I would have to grow. But, like our resilient fig tree, grow I did, and now, many years later, I think of that tree. I think of that tree and my family, corralled in a corner of sunshine, enjoying the sweet taste and light crunch of our favorite fruit. It’s a memory of love more than of a certain food, but I often find that the two go hand in hand. And I wonder if that tree is still there. If another family shares the same memory as I, expanding the familial and generational line which we are connected through figs.

One of my favorite ways to enjoy figs, besides fresh off the branch, is when it’s made into a spreadable jam. Easily spread onto shortbread cookies, crackers, bread and served with cheese, it’s a sweet Lebanese delicacy that everyone will love.

Fig Jam Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds green or purple figs, stemmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces;
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar;
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice;
  • 1/2 cup water

Method:

  1. Incorporate fig pieces and sugar in a large, nonreactive saucepan, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is mostly dissolved and figs are juicy, about 15 minutes.
  2. Once the sugar is mostly dissolved, add the lemon juice and water. Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved and the jam is brought to a boil. Over moderate heat, simmer the fig jam until the liquid runs off the spoon in thick, heavy drops and the fruit is soft, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes.
  3. In three 1/2 pint jars, spoon in the jam leaving 1/4 inch of space at the top. With closed lids, let the jam cool to room temperature. The jam can be stored for up to 3 months in the refrigerator.

Recipe sourced from Food & Wine magazine.

 

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