Figuring out how to win the fight against two fig trees

THE HAPPY EATER

September 20, 1995|By ROB KASPER

After doing battle with a couple of rowdy fig trees I enjoyed a sweet victory the other night. I ate a dish made with figs picked from the trees. The cookbook calls the appetizer "Grilled Figs and Tomatoes with Olives and Feta cheese." I call it revenge.

Recently I have been arriving home, scarred from the battles of the workday world, only to be assaulted by the branches of these pushy fig trees.

The trees grow next to the narrow pad where I park my car. When I squeeze my car into the parking pad, the driver's side door brushes against the branches of the fig trees.

I open the car door and the hostilities start. A branch takes a poke at me. I counter with a blow with my brief case. As I move alongside the car, more branches join the fray. Before I can get to the safety of my home, I have to run a fig-tree gantlet.

These fig trees are feisty. Their ancestors survived life in the desert, and they sure don't seem to be cowed by a few shots from a car door. I thought the icy winter we had a few years back would subdue them. Several branches were killed by the cold winter. But this dead wood was soon replaced by new, vigorous branches. The new growth seems wilder and rougher than the previous generation.

Moreover, this has been a boom year for figs. The stretch of recent hot, dry weather might have fried the corn and soybeans, but the figs have thrived.

Until recently the yield from the fig trees has been pretty paltry. Usually the two trees would produce about half a dozen ripe figs, then cold weather would set in and the harvest was over.

But this year, besides taking a record number of pokes at me, the fig trees have been producing lots of fruit. Recently, for example, I chopped one tree back. The tree not only quickly bounced back from my attack, it soon started dropping ripe figs on me.

I saved most of the fallen figs, washed them off and ate them raw. They may be hostile, but fig trees sure produce a sweet fruit.

Later, I tried cooking some of the figs on my barbecue grill. The trick was figuring out how to keep the tomatoes and figs on the grill, and out of the fire.

I came up with a two-part answer. First, I put the sliced tomatoes in one of those wire contraptions that are used to barbecue fish. Once I got the lid shut on this wire contraption, the tomatoes couldn't move.

Secondly, I used metal skewers for the figs. This kept the figs from diving into the fire. And after tussling with those trees for months I enjoyed skewering their figs. The next time I make this dish, I will whittle fig tree branches and use them as skewers. That way I can hoist a fig on its own petard.

Grilled figs and tomatoes

Serves 4 to 6

8 ripe fresh figs

8 plum tomatoes

6 tablespoons virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano

1/2 head romaine lettuce, sliced

1 pound black olives

1/2 pound feta cheese, crumbled

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 lemon, halved

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

salt and pepper to taste

Quarter figs and tomatoes and brush with mixture of olive oil and garlic. Sprinkle with oregano, salt and pepper. Using skewers or wire baskets, grill over low to medium fire until figs and tomatoes change color, 2 to 3 minutes a side. Place lettuce on platter. Arrange figs, tomatoes, olives and cheese on top. Drizzle with remaining olive oil, squeeze with lemon, sprinkle with basil, and serve with crusty bread.

-- From "Big Flavors of The Hot Sun" by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby

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