Hardy Chicago Types - A 4&5 Year Comparison

People have put down the many Hardy Chicago types for years. Myself included. A brief history for those that don't know:

Hardy Chicago is a variety that the fig community originally thought came from the area around or on Mt Enta in Italy. Hence the reason people still refer to them as "Mt Etna" figs. It's possible that is the true origin, but no credible evidence was ever presented. The true origin of fig varieties is a funny thing because even this fig has made its way into North America from all kinds of immigrant backgrounds. Italian, French, Portuguese, Middle Eastern, etc... In current times it's a fig that's growing in many places throughout the world. It's highly adapted and is considered to be the standard for hardiness. Also for its toughness, eagerness to put out fruit and fruit quality. For these reasons I believe it has been continuously propagated throughout the last 100+ years in North America. Regardless of who's fig it was, where it came from or who's family it was from. It's been planted all over and as a result.. I can walk around different parts of Philly and find these everywhere. Thus.. there is a lot of names this fig has been given over the years. Some that are the earliest recorded are Bensonhurt Purple and Hardy Chicago. During my first years of growing figs, I thought it was beneficial to group the many named Hardy Chicago types together. There's so many and as a result, it proved difficult to avoid acquiring too many of them. In my first year I had unknowingly acquired close to 15. Quickly learning and wising up.. I realized in conjunction with the opinions of others that these figs are the same thing or if not exactly the same, very close.

Now my opinions have definitely changed. I see great value in growing more than one "strain" of Hardy Chicago. If you believe in evolution, you should believe that these figs adapt to their environments and while the genetics may remain the same, their characteristics change slightly over time. Because this fig was so widely grown and propagated, it only makes sense that we see some differences among figs bearing the Hardy Chicago stamp. In addition to an already difficult task of identifying these differences, there's also the matter of maturity to consider. I didn't want to accept it at first, but to get the truest representation of a variety, you really need to wait quite some time. Pons for instance mentioned a few times in his book that specific varieties were too young, but he added them in his book anyway as he felt that his data was a true representation of the variety. I don't recall the name of the variety that I'm thinking of, but the tree was 8 years old at the time in the book. 8 years is a long time! My point is.. I'm sure that I am inaccurate in my findings to some degree. What I do know is that Hardy Chicago is one of those figs that takes its time maturing and a lot of growers report that in general it changes quite a bit from year to year even after 3 or more years.

From my own definition of what a Hardy Chicago looks like and tastes like, I would say Malta Black and Azores Dark definitely fit that label. However I find them to be different figs. I would even argue that the flavor is different enough that it's worth growing both. They both have a similar jammy texture, but Azores tastes like a fig, strawberry and concord grape jam. While Malta Black tastes like a fig and raspberry jam. Quite different taste profiles. They both appear to have similar characteristics like drying capabilities, hang time, rain resistance, split resistance, however thus far I find Azores more eager to put out fruit. Differences in ripening period, hardiness, leaf pattern, whether or not they produce breba and overall yield are still up for debate in my mind. To conclude: 5 years later... I find it to be very beneficial to grow many potential adaptations of a fig you hold so dearly. Whether that's Black Madeira, Violette de Bordeaux or Hardy Chicago, I think if you have room, I recommend it.

Pictures 1&2 -- Malta Black 2018, 2019 respectively - Obviously there's a big jump here in the level of ripeness, but I can't find a better comparison for maturity purposes.

Pictures 3&4 -- Azores Dark 2018 (4 year old tree), 2019 (off a young air layer) respectively

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