A Fig Lover's Odyssey: From Family Legacy to 200 Fig Varieties to Discovering their Rich Flavors
In my recent interview with Romeo Assaf, we explore his journey into the world of fig cultivation which is deeply rooted in his family's rich history. As a descendant of Syrian immigrants, Romeo's passion for growing figs began at a young age when he learned from his grandfather, who emigrated to the US in 1970 and started growing fruits and vegetables, including figs, in Pennsylvania. This intergenerational bond fostered a lifelong love for fig cultivation that would prove to be a defining aspect of Romeo's life.
In 2003, Romeo moved to Long Island and discovered Beleclare Nursery, an event that reignited his fervor for figs. Immersed in the world of horticulture, Romeo marveled at the simplicity and purity of growing figs and cherished the profound connection with the land that he experienced. His dedication and love for figs led to the cultivation of around 200 varieties, showcasing his commitment to preserving and sharing these exceptional fruits.
Despite facing a significant loss during winter, Romeo's unwavering enthusiasm for fig cultivation demonstrates the resilience of a true aficionado. His story is an inspiring reminder of the power of connecting with one's roots, the beauty of nature, and the potential for personal growth through adversity. By sharing his knowledge and experiences, Romeo encourages others to explore the fascinating world of figs and to appreciate the incredible diversity and rich flavors they offer.
As always, feel free to subscribe to the Fig Boss monthly newsletter for more fig-related content like this.
4 Fig Growing Tips Discussed in the Interview:
1. Understand your Local Climate:
To grow figs successfully, be aware of the weather and climate in your area. This knowledge will help you select suitable varieties for your specific conditions and ensure proper care.
2. Provide Proper Watering:
Figs need sufficient water, especially during the fruiting season. Romeo recommends using a drip irrigation system for larger fig collections, as it saves time and effort while ensuring consistent watering. These systems deliver water directly to the base of the plants, allowing for precise control of moisture levels.
This targeted approach saves time and effort, eliminating the need for manual watering and reducing water wastage. Additionally, drip irrigation promotes healthier plant growth by ensuring that each fig tree receives the optimal amount of water, resulting in better-quality fruit with enhanced flavor.
For more on properly watering fig trees, check out this detailed article:
3. Provide Winter Protection When Necessary:
Winter protection is crucial for fig trees, ensuring their survival and promoting successful fruit production come spring. Wrapping fig trees is a highly effective method to shield them from cold temperatures and wind. However, it's not the only technique available; other methods like insulation, heating cables, Christmas lights, and trapping the Earth's heat can also be employed.
Remember to protect the apical and lateral buds on your fig trees for earlier and higher quality fruits, as well as easier fruit set in the following year. Additionally, planting your fig trees near structures and sources of thermodynamic heating can raise ambient temperatures, providing extra warmth during the colder months. Stay proactive in protecting your fig trees, and you'll be rewarded with a bountiful harvest.
Explore different fig varieties to discover the unique flavors and characteristics of each one. By experimenting, you can find the varieties that work best in your local conditions and cater to your personal taste preferences. As you experiment with various figs, you'll notice that some years, certain varieties may taste amazing, while others fall short. Embrace this journey of exploration and enjoy the process of discovering the intricate flavors each variety has to offer.
Taste Preferences & the Diverse Flavors & Textures of Figs
Tasting a wide variety of figs is key to developing your palate and understanding the subtle differences in flavor that each variety has to offer. Embrace experimentation with different fig types to cultivate personal preferences and enrich your fruit-tasting experience. Climate plays a significant role when choosing which fig varieties to grow, so focus on those that thrive in your area. Remember that taste preferences are subjective, meaning the "best" fig is ultimately a matter of personal choice.
The unique flavors and textures of figs contribute to their appeal. Black Madeira figs boast berry-like flavors with additional depth, while the Italian Honey fig has a primarily sweet, single-note taste. The texture is an often-overlooked aspect of fig varieties, with the Coll de Damas having a particularly unique texture when ripe resembling a thick pancake batter.
Figs are versatile fruits that can represent a range of flavors. Some varieties have tastes reminiscent of other fruits, such as banana, mango, or papaya, while others like the Red Lebanese from the Bekka Valley feature a noticeable cherry flavor.
The skin of a ripe fig can add depth and complexity to the overall flavor, as seen in LSU Tiger figs, which have a particularly pleasant skin flavor and texture. Darker-skinned figs, such as Smith and Azores Dark, tend to have better-tasting skin and add another layer of flavor to the fruit.
Experimenting with unique fig varieties can lead to delightful discoveries. Some worth trying include Naples Dark, Little Ruby, Barbillone, Godfather, and Osborne Prolific. Meanwhile, tropical-flavored figs like the Golden Rainbow and Golden Riverside evoke the taste of a tropical fruit salad, with bananas as the main component. With so many varieties to explore, there's a world of fig flavors waiting to be enjoyed.
For more on unique fig varieties, check out this detailed write-up, here:
Choosing the Right Fig Variety for your Climate
Choosing the right fig variety can significantly impact your experience as a fig grower, as selecting a variety well suited to your climate and taste preferences ensures you get the most out of your fig-growing journey.
It can be disheartening to invest years of effort into a tree, only to realize that it's not suited for your location, resulting in a reduced harvest of high-quality figs or even inedible fruit. Fig varieties are location-specific, as the ripening process is heavily influenced by environmental factors, making it crucial to choose a variety that thrives in your area.
Figs are particularly sensitive to their environment during the ripening stage, making them susceptible to damage from weather conditions. Unlike fruits with hard coverings, like apples and persimmons, figs have a soft exterior that can absorb water, leading to cracking, splitting, mold, and fermentation. Figs can remain soft on the tree for an extended period, increasing their vulnerability to adverse weather.
When choosing a fig variety, it's essential to consider the climate in your area during winter, summer, and fall. Some fig varieties are more cold-tolerant, while others can be grown in mild summer climates due to their reliable breba production or early main crop harvest periods. Some figs are better suited for humid climates, as they don't need to hang on the tree as long and have a skin that acts as a waterproof jacket, repelling water.
In contrast, other fig varieties are better suited to warmer climates, producing incredible flavors even in temperatures of 100-110°F. Your local climate is vital when selecting fig varieties, as the best-tasting fig won't be enjoyable if it doesn't ripen correctly due to climate conditions. Weather can significantly affect fig flavors, as temperature fluctuations, humidity, and sunlight exposure play a role in determining the fruit's sweetness, texture, and overall taste during the ripening stage.
Key factors to consider when selecting a fig variety include the fruit's eye, skin, shape, and susceptibility window. The eye's openness can affect the fig's exposure to the elements, with a more closed eye being less susceptible to damage. The skin's quality is essential, as it can either repel or absorb water, affecting the fig's integrity. The fig's shape can influence its vulnerability to splitting, while the susceptibility window, or the time it takes for the fruit to ripen, can impact its ability to withstand adverse conditions.
You’re Now One Step Closer to Better Figs
In the interview, Romeo shares his experiences with anecdotal experiments aimed at understanding the variables affecting the taste of his figs. By conducting these informal experiments, Romeo was able to observe firsthand how different growing conditions and practices impacted the flavor of the figs. This allowed him to refine his techniques and optimize the conditions in his garden to produce figs with exceptional taste.
Through these explorations, Romeo gained valuable insights into the complex interplay of factors that determine the flavor of figs. His experiments not only improved the quality of his fruit but also contributed to a deeper understanding of the intricate world of fig cultivation.
As you embark on your own fig-growing journey, be inspired by Romeo's dedication to understanding the nuances of fig cultivation through his anecdotal experiments. Embrace the opportunity to learn, experiment, and grow as a fig enthusiast, and remember that each experience brings you closer to cultivating the perfect fig for your unique taste preferences.
Let Romeo's passion for fig cultivation motivate you to immerse yourself in the fascinating world of figs, and before you know it, you too could be enjoying the fruits of your labor, savoring the exceptional flavors that come from understanding and mastering the art of growing figs.