A Decadently Sweet, Exquisite Pleasure

“To eat figs off the tree in the very early morning, when they have been barely touched by the sun, is one of the exquisite pleasures of the Mediterranean.” ― Elizabeth David, An Omelette and a Glass of Wine

I must add, “and one of the exquisite pleasures of the Southern summer.”

Last week I picked my first home grown tomato. I dined on the first tomato sandwich of the season. Both sweet and tart…in the past week I have dined on at least one tomato sandwich daily and have included them in other dishes. One can never get enough of a good thing.

This week I picked my first fig and ate it in the early morning as suggested by Elizabeth David. The fruit was untouched by the morning sun. Covered in dew it was still cool from the nighttime temperatures. It WAS a decadently exquisite pleasure. I picked more than I could eat at one time but for some reason the picked figs I eat later don’t seem to be as decadent as the ones I eat fresh from the tree.

The Brown Turkey Fig I intend to enjoy…now.

My trees, I have two, came from cuttings my grandmother started for me over thirty years ago. She laid a small limb down on the ground and put a rock on it. When roots formed, she snipped it loose from the tree and I brought it home to transplant. Her tree came from a cutting her mother gave her and I am still trying to get a cutting to give my daughter.

I’ve described the fig as decadent, an odd word to describe the fig considering its religious overtones. Adam and Eve covered their nudity with fig leaves after sampling the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. In western culture the forbidden fruit has been portrayed as the apple.

Considering that the fig was cultivated well before the apple, it is quite possible the apple has received a bad rap. The fig might have been the forbidden fruit Lucifer No Shoulders successfully tempted Eve with…if so, decadent might be a perfect word. The fig or the fig tree is mentioned some two hundred times in the Bible, the apple less than ten.

Okay, for the biologists in the group. A fig is technically not a fruit. It is an inverted flower…whatever that is. If it looks like fruit…tastes like fruit…

In the Quran, the fig is considered THE sacred fruit. Buddha rested under the Bodhi Tree, a fig tree whose DNA still exists after three thousand years. It was under this tree the Buddha gained enlightenment. Both the Hindus and Jains consider the fig a holy fruit. The Greeks so loved the fig they enacted laws forbidding the export of them.

A painting of the Buddha under the Ficus Religiosa. The “tree of awakening”.

As Christianity began to view nudity differently than say…the Greeks, religious paintings and statues featuring nudity were redone, some even destroyed in the attempt. Many fig leaves were added after the fact to cover he and she parts.

I’m not sure David needed a covering for his man part.

My figs are Brown Turkey figs. I don’t know why they are called Turkey figs but guess it might have to do with country of origin. Figs are associated with Greece and Asia Minor was awash with Greeks for a thousand years before the Turks of the Ottoman Empire descended upon them.

I’m sure the Greeks brought their fig tree cuttings with them, fig trees that came from Egypt or North Africa to Crete to Greece and then on to Turkey. These became known as Brown Turkey figs. Turkey is one of the top four fig producers worldwide.

I could be wrong but I’m glad someone brought them to Spain and from Spain to Mexico. From Mexico it was only a turkey’s hop, skip, and jump to California. Spanish Franciscan missionaries brought the fig to southern California in 1520, leading to the variety known as the Mission fig. California produces ninety-seven percent of commercial figs sold in the United States. If you like Fig Newtons, thank the Franciscans.

Ain’t cultural diffusion wonderful!

Brown Turkeys normally have two crops. The first, the crop I’m feasting on now, features large brown/yellow fruit on the outside, light red, almost pink insides. Oh, those insides, sweet and sugary, but not so sweet they set your teeth on edge. One site I was reading described the taste as “decadently sweet, providing flavors of hazelnuts and confectionaries.” I just ate one and didn’t get the taste of hazelnuts. I just describe it as good, especially covered in dew in the pre-dawn light.

The second crop provides more numerous fruits but smaller in size. Fruit that is perfect to wrap in bacon and roast in balsamic vinegar. I mean, figs and bacon are perfect together. I still go out in the pre-dawn and eat a few raw before I harvest.

My figs are a labor of love and of luck. Luck primarily. Our climate is in the foothills of the Blue Ridge and is not conducive for figs. Several times over the past thirty-five years my tree has been killed down to the roots by a late freeze or the first crop decimated by a killing frost.

Despite my worries the tree would not recover, it always has. In some ways it reminds me of my grandmother who somehow recovered for ninety-eight years. I would never describe her as decadently sweet, but she was an exquisite pleasure, and my predawn fig always reminds me of her.

Expulsion of Adam and Eve ~ Aureliano Milani , 1675–1749

For a humorous guide on how not to gather figs, you might like Ha, Ha, Ha! Stupid Man Goes Boom! https://cigarman501.com/2020/08/16/ha-ha-ha-stupid-man-goes-boom/

Don Miller’s Author’s page is found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR3Sku_ycekhc9FkHrr-nv6_eKa65eciZwTRigrKR9zYwwmglFkhWSfcJ0k

Salvation Between Two Slices of Bread

Gloria was sure she wanted but to read and dream and be fed tomato sandwiches and lemonades by some angelic servant still in a shadowy hinterland.”– F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Beautiful and Damned)

The Trinity has arrived to save my soul. It was late coming this year and it may be blasphemy or sacrilege to speak of it in such a way…I don’t care. My deliverance is as close to a religious experience as…college football.

The heat and humidity are damning me to lethargy as I retreat to my recliner and air conditioning. When I am forced to venture into the outdoors, swarms of gnats cloud my vision and cause me to sneeze as I inhale them. Tiny vampires suck the blood from me, but I don’t become one of the undead…thankfully or not.

Stinging critters attack from both the air and land…some from underground…damn you, yellow jackets, minions from hell.  To top it all off, I found a tick on my person, all bloated and ugly, an incarnation of Satan himself.

I need the “Balm of Gideon” to erase all my ills and I might just have spied it. I need to be delivered from my sins and the object of my rebirth has appeared in my suffering garden.

Cherokee Purple Tomato

I was late planting due to wet weather and now we are suffering through a drought. Thunderstorms filled the skies with flashes of lightning and ear-splitting thunder…only to slide south or east, anywhere other than over my garden. Too much of one thing when you need the other, prayers unanswered.

There was a two-week period when the garden was left to its own devices due to a family emergency. My grandmother would be unhappy to see the grass in my row centers and when I returned, I found that my rabbits had eaten my green beans. A pox upon me and my laziness too. The weeds have overrun me.

The garden has suffered as have I, maybe worse as it has been set upon by the plague of squash bugs. Poxes, plagues of insects, and drought. Does sound quite Biblical.

Little green tomatoes finally appeared but haven’t gotten much larger until recently… I would not call them large. As I walked by, I saw a flash of red in sea of green. A baseball sized orb of goodness. A small goodness but I didn’t care. A ripe Cherokee Purple tomato. Nectar of my Southern gods, manna from heaven. Cherokee Purples are what my bride refers to as those “ugly” tomatoes. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I reckon ugly is too.

I reckon it is pretty ugly. Kinda looks like a monster…or demon.

Deep reddish-purple skin with a green top, I carried it quickly, holding it carefully as if I were Sir Galahad protecting the Holy Grail. This was my balm, my soothing elixir, my anodyne. I knew exactly how to prepare it…a tomato sandwich, or as we said back home, a ‘mater sammich. I just need to let it cool to room temperature, so I don’t bite into hellfire and brimstone.

I finally had the last member of the trinity, a tomato to join white bread and mayonnaise. Not just any mayonnaise mind you, Duke’s Mayonnaise, the one with the yellow top. If you use Hellman’s or Miracle Whip, you might want to pray for the forgiveness of your sins. As for me, I believe it is a miracle anyone uses Miracle Whip. Mustard? Heresy!

Two slices of Sunbeam bread, you may use any white bread as long it is low in nutritional value. Its function is just to hold the mayo and tomato anyway. Whichever bread you choose should be a fresh, soft bread with little texture as it will become soaked in tomato and mayo juice. Wheat, pumpernickel, or rye simply won’t work.

I use Sunbeam because I love “Little Miss Sunbeam” gazing at me like a little blond angel while I drip tomato juice all over myself as a celebration of my baptism.

Little Miss Sunbeam

Unlike grape juice and communion wafers from my Methodist past, the tomato sandwich is the modern sacraments of a backslide soul…with a glass of sweet, lemon tea, the Southern Champagne, to wash it down. I will add a shake or two of salt to bring out the sweetness of the tomato and black pepper because I can.

I choose to eat it over my kitchen sink watching the heat outside my window ripple the air. My spirit soars like the thermals above a highway. Tomato juice and mayonnaise drip onto my small plate…that is, the juices that miss my shirt front. A heavenly stain upon me…the sign of my tomato god.

Oh my ‘mater sammich, how I love thee, praise be thy name.

“It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato.” Louis Grizzard

A short history lesson. By the end of the nineteenth century, most Europeans, especially those of the upper classes, believed tomatoes were poisonous. After a long period of stigma, scientists finally discovered that tomatoes were the victims of bad information.

The bad information? Affluent Europeans used tin alloy dishes (pewter), which contained high levels of lead, to store food and to eat from. Because natural tomatoes are highly acidic, when they are put into tin alloy containers, they can react to the acid and cause acute lead poisoning. (Pewter no longer uses lead)

Another short history lesson. A tomato is a fruit…except in South Carolina. In my home state, it is a vegetable by legislative decree. It must have been a slow day at the capital.

Don Miller’s latest offering is “Pig Trails and Rabbit Holes” and may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR0yXYm7o67oNCZe580f0IHGFtOAndQ4-x_K4txNuTEUZlTfZIvoD-apLtU