The Fignificent Forgotten Fig

Fig variety Preston Prolific

by John Rance

It just doesn’t figure that the dependable fig tree, the fruit tree most valued by our pioneering forefathers, has become to this generation, the forgotten fig. Once esteemed and cherished, it has now become a fruit of inconvenience. A whole generation of kids are growing up without ever tasting a fresh fig, or even knowing what they look like.

Last century fig connoisseurs would gather together, to discuss and vote on the delicate differences between their many varieties. In some parts of Europe the science of growing the fig to perfection had become an art worth bragging about.

So what happened between then and now to lower the figs status, from up there rivaling ‘the apple’, to so low that our kids have never seen one. Has the fig changed so much ? Or have we changed so much ? Why is it so rare to find fresh figs at the fruit & veg stall or in the supermarket ? And if you do find them, they are nothing to rave about anyway. Are they so hard to grow ? No, I can’t think of any fruit tree that is less demanding or so easy to grow. So what has happened?

The answer in a nut shell is, we have become creatures of convenience rather then pursuers of quality. The emphasis has shifted from “what is best for the consumer” to “what is the best for the supplier.” This ideal back yard tree is not an ideal commercial orchard tree. The fig may hold its place in history, but it can’t hold its place on the shelf. The fig may ripen to perfection on the tree, but they won’t hold perfection on the shelf There are lots of things the growers don’t like about figs, and some things the supermarkets don’t like about them, but as a back yard tree they out perform all else.

Across Australia the fig tree collections are being destroyed. The Agricultural Research Stations are no longer studying the potential of the fig. The humble fig has been sentenced to commercial doom. This is despite the fact that it is better suited to SA and WA growing conditions than almost any other fruit tree. Its potential is right up there with the olive and the quandong.

Before the Loxton collection was destroyed, we were able to acquire cuttings of each of their 18 varieties. These have been distributed amongst interested members. Several members taking full collections. Since this initial collection we have collected further material from around Australia. We have new varieties from Perth WA., Gosford NSW., Darwin NT., Alice Springs NT., and Mt. Gambier SA. Our collection now stands at around 40 varieties. Making it by far Australia’s largest gene-pool. it is important that we keep track of as many of these cultivars as possible, for many were on the verge of being lost completely-and many others would have become untraceable. As we can sort out and grow-on these new varieties we hope to make them available to the members.

Who knows, maybe the day will come when Adelaide will become the FIG CONNOISSEUR CAPITAL of the WORLD, and our members will hold Fig tasting Soirees-make pleasant chatter about their latest delicacies, and boasting of their figurative expertise. Only time will tell if this is just a figment of my exasperation!

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