Figs: eat or throw away?

FigsLibeThumbnailBeyond a comparative tasting between figs picked in Wimbledon and figs purchased in the trade, we look at the pleasures of eating and the dislikes for waste as grounds for a better use of local fruit.

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The pleasures of eating

Images of fresh figs are often used to illustrate quality eating topics, and last weekend edition of French broadsheet “Libération” about the current trends of French gastronomy made no exception.

Libération cover - 16/17th Nov 2013 weekend edition

‘Taste buds resist’, Libération Weekend coverpage, 16/17th Nov 2013 (click on image to reach the online edition. Fully readable by Libération suscribers only).

The newspaper argues that the French are fighting to adapt their gastronomic traditions to modern times by putting the quality of ingredients at the heart of the subject.
I would say this is not really new. We already know that a tasty fig makes more of an interesting meal than an insipid one.

More interesting was the conclusion of the editorial (in French), in which the pleasures of eating and sharing were described as ‘for us, here, in a France in crisis, the most sensual expression of citizenship’.

As a French citizen myself, I agree: eating is a social act and sharing the pleasure of it a priority in life. It raises our senses and I would also agree that in times of crisis it may warm our hearts under the reassuring banner of the culture we belong to, beyond the mere satisfaction of the most fundamental vital need that feeding is.

I would add that sharing meals fosters good familial and social relationships, and safeguards against isolation and loneliness. What about the pleasure of an elderly person eating an apple crumble made for her/him? What if the apple crumble has been made by a friend with local apples harvested in the community?

In my view, every opportunity to have a good meal, share it or enable other people to share it with their friends, family and in other relationship circles should be seized.

This is why I am so interested in fruit growing in our local gardens: it is a great resource for great meals and social bonds.

Wasted figs in London SW19

Opportunities are unfortunately being missed. We know that local fruit is widely underused, and has been for a long time. My first experience of reading it in the British press was this 2009 article from the BBC News Magazine. We should change that, come back to old times where people were using their fruit, and adapt the concept to modern times? ‘Retro-innovate’, as Libération would say.

As I have just said, there are many examples of wasted local fruit. Yet this autumn we came across one that stroke a significant chord. It was about figs, and figs are somewhat sacred.

I looked into the reasons why figs are so symbolic of food, and found some answers in the ‘Cultural aspects’ chapter of the Wikipedia page about figs, which shows that they were used as a symbol of prosperity in religions that originated in the warm countries of the Middle East, where they are abundant. Maybe we still somewhat remember that and give value to the fig beyond the aesthetics qualities that make it a favourite subject of still food photography?

Anyway, now is what happened in September this year, here in South West London.
We, Abundance Wimbledon, the now quite well established local fruit picking and sharing initiative created in 2010, contacted the landlords of a property who had a tree loaded with ripe figs, to help harvest them. They declined the offer: they said they didn’t want their tenants to be disturbed. In the following weeks the weather started to deteriorate and we saw, little by little, the figs rot on the tree and fall. What a waste!

Well, at least it will have inspired me to write this article. But really, I would have preferred these figs to be enjoyed by the garden landlords, occupiers, and other people in the local community if there was a surplus!

FigsSep13_3479square-web

Most of the ripe figs, the large and dark ones, were still on the tree on 13th Sep 2013.

As good as ‘Perfectly Ripe’

We picked a couple of figs from that Wimbledon tree, from a branch over the street. I came back home with four or five. We tried them raw, they were sweet. Surely they had benefited from this year’s  particularly sunny summer.

I don’t know much about figs but we purchased ‘perfectly ripe figs’ from a supermarket to compare. They were of the same size, the supermarket ones were slightly firmer, yet less tasty than the Wimbledon ones.

Basically these figs were very good! Probably not as good as figs eaten on the tree after a day of sunshine in a Mediterranean garden, but still very good!

And what if we had dried some of them, or made some jam? I tasted fantastic fig jams in a Central London market at the beginning of October, from a Southern Europe artisanal producer, I could have tried a few recipes.

Frustration

It is a shame that many of the figs got lost. Ten kilos or more? It was a relatively small quantity, but of a fruit – I regularly witness it during our Abundance activities – that puts broad smiles on people’s faces.

I was surprised by the reaction of the landlords. We usually are very much welcomed by garden owners.
Actually we thought that declining the offer was unfair to the occupiers. Maybe the tenants would have welcomed our approach and been very happy to have the figs being used?

I realised later on that I had been put off by this behaviour and lost interest in the figs.
I didn’t take a picture at home, hence not having a nice image of Wimbledon figs to show this year. Also, after a few days, two of the figs went to the bin: we were not eating them and they started to rot near the fruit bowl!
Two figs thrown away is not a big deal. But I think it tells about the frustration. We got disappointed somewhat, we lost touch with those figs. It would have been a pleasure to eat them in other circumstances.

I guess this sort of frustration happens in other households. How many of us get disappointed by local waste at times? How many of us have sometimes, as a result, moments of wasting behaviour?

How much does this add up to, in terms of additional quantity of waste and amount of discontent, if not unhappiness in our lives?

Really, we should do something about this, and re-invent the systems that will enable us to use local fruit better.

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