Oh Fig!

 

There is something for me that is nostalgic about figs. They take me back in time when screen  doors and windows were left unlocked and opened and when catching fireflies in the fields trumped anything else that was going on that night.

I am always amazed at how many people have never eaten a fig.   Their flavor is a delicate combination of peaches and strawberries and can be eaten alone, or added to many recipes. Though dried figs are available throughout the year, there is nothing like the unique taste of a fresh fig. Growing and caring for fig trees is extremely simple and the maintenance is minimal. 

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So what about figs?

Figs can trace their history back to the earliest of times with mentions in the Bible and other ancient writings. They are thought to have been first cultivated in Egypt. They spread to ancient Crete and then to ancient Greece around the 9th century BC, where they became a staple food in their diets. Figs were held in high esteem by the Greeks, so much that they created laws forbidding the export of quality figs. Figs were also revered in ancient Rome where they were thought of as a sacred fruit. Later, they would be introduced to other regions of the Mediterranean by ancient conquerors and then brought to the Western Hemisphere by the Spaniards in the early 16th century.

So you want to grow a fig tree? 

 

Growth Habit: The fig is a  deciduous tree and grows up to to 50 ft tall, but more typically to a height of 10 – 30 ft. Their branches are muscular and twisting, spreading wider than they are tall. Fig wood is weak and decays rapidly. We try to keep ours at picking height and let it get as wide as it wants to. 

The sap : It’s always a good idea to wear long sleeves and gloves…the sap and rough leaf texture of a fig tree can make for some itchy skin and some nasty allergy reactions. 

Foliage: Fig leaves are bright green, single, with a rough hairy surface. They are known to have anti-diabetic properties when ingested or made into teas. During spring and summer, leaves are bountiful,  but during winter you will be left with only branches. These leaves can be irritating, so again, use some protection between your skin and the leaves.

Location:  Full sun & lots of room- remember, when planting and searching for a location, that the roots invade garden beds.

Planting: If you are growing your figs in a row, plant the trees 15 to 20 feet apart. Prune your new plants back a little when you plant them. It is better to plant them a little deeper than they were growing in the nursery, about 2 to 3 inches deeper. The best planting time for bare-root plants is in the late winter – late January and February. Potted plants can be planted any time.

Pruning:  You don’t have to prune a fig tree; they will still yield lots of fruit, but you may want to tame this big beast now and then or you will need a crane to pick your figs. Never heavily prune in winter because it will affect the next year’s crop, instead, prune right after harvesting.

Fertilization: Compost and well-rotted mature are the very best fertilizer for fig trees, but commercial fertilizers can be used. Apply a balanced fertilizer about three times a year – spring, early summer and mid-summer. On a medium-sized tree apply 2 to 3 cups of a balanced fertilizer in a circle from about a foot from the trunks to the drip line and then work it into the soil. Do not apply any fertilizer in the fall since it can cause the trees to put on new growth when the plant is nearing the first frost, causing damage. Caution: Do not use any fertilizer the first year after planting; let the trees get established first.

Irrigation: Figs and water go together, but too much water is harmful. Keep the soil moist, but not wet constantly. This water can come from rainfall or irrigation so test the soil at least 2 inches below the surface for soil moisture and irrigate as necessary. Heavy rain or standing water can cause the fruit to split and spoil and if water stands on the plants for long periods, it can cause the plants to die.

Flowers: Though figs have flowers, they go unnoticed and are actually inside the green “fruit”. Bees and other pollinators actually go through an opening in the fruit to pollinate it. Pollinated seeds provide the characteristic nutty taste of dried figs.

Fruits Crop: There are two crops for the fig tree:  The first comes in the spring on last season’s growth. The second crop comes in the fall on the new growth and is known as the main crop. We are fortunate enough to have 2 huge crops per year. 

Fig Varieties

There are hundreds of fig varieties but the following are most commonly found in U.S. farms and markets. Here are just a few:

Brown Turkey Figs: Brownish / copper-colored skin, often with hints of purple, and mostly pink/red flesh with some white flesh.

Celeste figs :  Egg sized,  purplish-brown when ripe, and a dark, sweet, moist, purple flesh inside.

The Calimyrna Fig: Has a nut-like flavor and golden skin. Eaten as is.

The Mission Fig:  Got its name from mission priest who planted the fruit in along the coast of California in 1769. This fig is a deep purple which darkens to a rich black when dried.

The Kadota Fig: Is a trickster to birds since they are green when ripened, birds tend to leave them alone.  Also known as the “Peter’s Honey” fig, it is nearly seedless.

How to know when a fig is ripe

Color – Figs come in all colors from yellow, brown, red to purple, black and many others so know what color your fig is supposed to be, so you know when it’s ready.

Texture – Ripe Figs Become soft like a peach when ripe. Don’t let them sit too long…a mushy fig can be a messy fig.

Fig Picking Tips-Figs grow on low, open trees, with no thorns and soft leaves, so they’re very easy to pick!  The ripe figs will separate easily from the tree when you lift them upwards from  their normal drooping position. The ripe figs definitely droop a bit and feel softer.  Unripe figs are harder, more firmly attached, and do not droop. Figs must be picked ripe from the trees, since they do not ripen once picked.

Storing fresh figs

Figs won’t last long at room temperature. I found this out the hard way.  I once picked buckets upon buckets of fresh figs and left them on the counter until I could get to them a few days later. Unfortunately, they became chicken and worm food :(.  The fridge will keep them for a few days, but only a few…so check on them often.

 

Fig Facts

  • Figs date back to 9400-9200 B.C. and were considered the “fruit of the gods”
  • Figs are high in calcium, 3.5 ounces of figs provide 16 % of your daily recommendation. and 1/2 cup of figs is the same as a 1/2 cup of milk
  • Fig trees have no blossoms on their branches
  • Figs hold moisture in baked goods and keep them fresher longer
  • Figs are the sweetest of all fruits at 55% sugar content
  • Figs can be used as a fat substitution in recipes using half the amount as you would butter or oil
  • 3-4 figs   have more fiber than a cup of oatmeal
  • In Roman times, figs were thought to restore vitality and keep you young and free of wrinkles
  • In the 16th century, the Spaniards introduced Mission figs to California territory
  • In the early olympics, figs were used as a training food much like a Power Bar today
  • Fig Newtons made their first appearance in 1892
  • The Mission San Diego priests planted figs throughout California in 1769, hence the name “Mission Figs”
  • The fig is a symbol of fertility, abundance and sweetness
  • California produces 98 percent of the nation’s figs and 100% of the nation’s dried figs

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If you don’t have a fig tree already, I encourage you to get one, even if it’s on the patio or porch.  It’s a wonderful addition to the garden and the possibilities for using figs are endless.

Check out our blogs on some ways to preserve, can, and dry figs.

 

 

 

 

 

Until next time,

Keep It Local & Keep It Real Y’All,

The Texas Chick

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    Me & my hubby “Farmer Rob”

Pressure Cooker Canning

 

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I was overjoyed walking into our garden today. It was the first day of summer and with no school bells, alarms or deadlines, I spent my day in the garden enjoying the Texas sun, a slight breeze and a  bountiful of green beans ready for pickin’.  This would be my first time pressure canning.  In past I’ve stuck to jams and jellies which was a good starting point and stepping stone for me and only required a water bath.  Initially, I was intimidated with using a pressure cooker that looked like something my grandmother used back in the day.  I can clearly remember her having us stay clear of the kitchen for fear that it would blow and injure someone.  Well, pressure cookers have come a long way with many safety features and though I still keep my kiddos clear of the kitchen, I’m much more comfortable using my up to date model.IMG_0236

Why Not Just a Water Bath?

Green beans, unlike jams or jellies, are a low acid food that  require pressure canning to kill microorganisms that are harmful if not destroyed before ingesting the food. Pressure canning at 240 degrees kills the botulism bacteria. If this temperature isn’t achieved and the bacteria isn’t destroyed, one taste of this spoiled food can kill you. Simply boiling food on the stovetop will not kill any botulism and should not be considered a safety step.

What Supplies Do I Need?IMG_4974

Canning supplies are minimal and can be purchased anywhere from Williams-Sonoma to WalMart and even your local grocery store in some cases.  

Here are a few items you will need dependent on what you are canning:

  • A Pressure Cooker and/or
  • Water Bath Canner
  • Measuring cups/spoons
  • Jar Lifter
  • Magnetic Lifter
  • Wide Mouth & Regular Mouth Jars and Lids of all sizes
  • Canning Rack

 

 

Once you have all your supplies :

  1. Gather firm fresh green beans. Prepare your beans.  Wash in cold water and snip each end off.  If they are string beans, remove the string from the top of the bean.  Remove and discard any spots or soft/mushy parts. You can leave them whole or  cut them in half or thirds.
  2.  Sanitize your jars – This can be done a couple of ways: You can place them in a pot of water and bring them to a low boil over the stove for 10  minutes to sanitize after properly and carefully washing and rinsing, or  run them through a dishwasher cycle to sanitize them. It is important that you keep your jars hot or at least very warm until you use them or the vast difference in temperature will crack or break them.   I do not place my lids or tops in the dishwasher, rather in a small  saucepan and bring this to a boil for a few minutes using my magnetic lifter to place them on jars to avoid contamination. Using a small saucepan makes it so much easier when you go to lift them out and avoids burning your fingers, where as dipping your hand or a magnetic lid holder in a deep pot may cause injury.  IMG_4964
  3.  Fill a  pot  with clean water or filtered water and bring to a boil. This pot is in addition to your pressure cooker and this boiled water will be used to pour over packed jars full of green beans. This is call the cold pack  or raw pack method.
  4. Place  your pressure canner pot on stove and add 3 quarts of water into the pressure canner – follow your manufacturer’s instructions on what’s required for your canner. I place 2 tablespoons of white vinegar in the water to prevent water stains on jars.  
  5.  Pack the beans in the canning jars tightly. I try to lean my jars on the side holding it with one hand while packing neatly and tightly with the other.  Leave  1” inch headspace at the top of the jar to allow for expansion during the canning process. Pack your beans as tightly as possible as they will shrink some when processed. Remember to keep your hands very clean and ensure everything is sanitized to prevent any contamination.  
  6. Using a ladle pour the boiling water into the jars leaving the 1” inch headspace at the top.  The green beans should be covered.
  7.  To salt or not to salt…this is the question:  You may add ½ to 1 teaspoon of salt into the jars if you wish, however, this is not necessary to preserve the green beans. If you do  choose to add salt, use pickling/canning salt.IMG_4965
  8.   Use a plastic utensil to slide down the side of the jars to release any air bubbles.  Add more water if necessary to cover the beans while still leaving 1 inch of headspace.
  9. Wipe the rim of the jar with a clean cloth dipped in white vinegar or just a damp clean cloth. Add a warm lid, using  your magnetic lid lifter , and apply the ring only fingertip tight.
  10. Use your jar lifter and place it into the pressure canner to avoid burning your hands.
  11. Repeat process until all jars are filled or your pressure canner is filled – whichever comes first.
  12. Make sure you can see light through the vent pipe on your lid – then place the lid on your canner and tighten. Turn burner on high heat
  1. Heat pressure canner until there is a steady flow of steam that can be seen, heard or felt coming through the vent pipe. Continue to heat for 10 minutes – reducing heat if necessary to allow for a steady flow of steam.
  2. Place 10 pounds of pressure on the regulator and add it to the vent pipe. Heat canner on high setting.  As pressure develops, the cover lock will lift – this means there is pressure in the canner.  **Never remove the regulator or lid when the cover lock is lifted.IMG_4970 Processing time begins when the pressure regulator (the weight) begins to rock gently. Adjust the heat to maintain a slow steady rocking motion.

Now that the cover lock is down, it is time to remove the weight and let the canner cool for another 10 minutes.

Process pints for 20 minutes, and quarts for 25 minutes.  *Times and pressure may differ slightly depending on your altitude.

  1. At the end of processing time, turn burner off and remove canner from heat source. Here is where the waiting begins — you must let the pressure drop as the canner cools. Pressure is completely reduced when the cover lock drops back down in place. Do not remove the regulator or lid until this drops to prevent injury or burn.
  2. Once the cover lock has dropped, remove the regulator and let the canner cool for an additional 10 minutes.  Remove lid — Lift the back of the lid up first so the steam escapes away from you.
  3. Remove jars from canner using your jar lifter – and place on a towel to cool.  Placing on a towel or dish rag is very important as the drastic temperature between your counter and the glass may cause it to break and burn you.

Within several minutes you will hear a ‘popping’ sound indicating that the jars are sealed.  Let cool for 24 hours.

18. Store your canned goods in a cool, dry place with date of packing.IMG_4986

19. On a last note….NEVER waste…all those clippings and snippings  from your beans are great chicken, rabbit, and worm food!

20. Happy Canning!

Keep it real and keep it local y’all, 

The Texas Chick

 

 

Mexican Mint Marigold – A Golden Garden Gem

As I was pulling onions today with my good friend Bonnie, a native of Mexico, she noticed a sweet yellow flower hidden in my squash beds.  I had grown this little gem from seed with no real knowledge of its benefits or use, but for Bonnie this plant quickly sent her back 20 years as she went to reminiscing and telling stories of when her family would walk miles in search of this herb along the river banks to carefully harvest its tender leaves and bright golden flowers. In her home this plant was used make a medicinal tea that would help with her father’s high blood pressure and ease the pain in her mother’s joints from arthritis. IMG_4999

After a long day in the garden harvesting onions and canning green beans, we sat down to a cup of this delectable tea in hopes it would relieve our tired knees and strained backs. I must say I was skeptical, but it did the trick! 

A Little Historydownload (2)

The Aztecs allegedly used Tagetes lucida as one of the ingredients in a medicinal powder which was blown into the faces of those about to become the victims of human sacrifice and which may have have had  anxiolytic properties.The plant was linked to the rain god Tlaloc. The plant is also used by the Huichol, mixed with Nicotiana rustica (a potent wild tobacco), for its claimed psychotropic and entheogenic effects. Aztecs often used this herb for gout, swellings, digestive problems and many other ailments.

Plant Description

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Tagetes lucida grows 18-30 inches (46–76 cm) tall. Depending on land race, the plant may be fairly upright, while other forms appear bushy with many unbranching stems. The leaves are linear to oblong, about 3 inches (7.6 cm) long, and shiny medium green, not blue-green as in French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus var. sativa). In late summer it bears clusters of small golden yellow flower heads on the ends of the stems. The flower heads are about 0.5 inches (1.3 cm) across and have 3-5 golden-yellow ray florets. The flowers are hermaphroditic (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by insects.

Known by Many Names

Sweet Scented marigold,  Santa Maria, Mexican marigold, Mexican mint marigold, Mexican tarragon, Spanish tarragon, sweet mace, Texas tarragon, pericón,yerbaniz, and hierbanís.

A Versatile Plant IMG_4998

Agetes Lucida, otherwise known as Mexican Mint Marigold,  is native to Mexico and Guatemala. It is a very fragrant plant that is known for its healing powers and is primarily used for its medicinal properties such as  overcoming nausea, diarrhea, colic, malaria, indigestion and fever related illnesses. It may also be used as a diuretic. It depresses the central nervous system and can a common sedative.   Extracts from the plant have antimicrobial, anti-fungal and antibacterial properties as well as antioxidant ones. Used  warm as a tea and applied to skin it can cleanse and cure acne and relieve a scorpion bites when applied  topically.

Mexican Marigold enjoys bright, well drained areas and has a sweet anise taste.  

This versatile plant  has many uses such as flavoring green and fruit salads, fish, sauces, poultry, vegetables, peppers, squash, stuffing and can also be used to make delicious vinaigrette or desserts.  It closely resembles French Tarragon and makes a  flavorful and healing tea.   In addition, once dried, it can be used as an insect repellent when burned or incense for the home.

For Tea

Known to aide with illnesses such as diarrhea, colic, indigestion, and pain in joints as well as help with high blood pressure

Pluck tender leaves with or without stems .

Bring purified water to a boil, turn off heat and place in pot

Cover and steep 15 minutes, add honey if desired to sweeten

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Honey is always a great sweetener, however, this tea is great as is.

 

 

 

For Acne

Make above tea (minus honey)

Let it cool a bit until warm enough to withstand

Place  clean cloth in tea brew and let warm tea soak cloth

Place cloth on face and let sit 10-15 minutes

Do not rinse

 Mexican Mint Marigold Pesto Recipe2476411

Blend in a food processor:

2/3 to 1 cup olive oil, any type

2 c. Mexican Mint Marigold leaves

1 c. Sweet Oregano or Chervil leaves

1/2 c. walnuts or blanched almonds

4 oz. Feta cheese

4 oz. sour cream

1/4 tsp. sea salt

Process on high for a few minutes, scrape down

the sides and then process a few minutes more.

Can be frozen for use later, just thaw in fridge.

 

Keep it real and keep it local y’all!

The Texas Chick