Wrapping up my 2020 season has been a long process. I haven't had as much time as I would have liked to explain my cull list, keeper list, my favorite or best tasting varieties and some of the "newer" varieties that have really impressed me.
To the overall fig community it was quite a shocker when people heard that Verdino del Nord and Nerucciolo d'Elba were my best fig varieties. I know for those of you who follow along with my YouTube channel, Fruit Talk! or even this blog were not caught by surprise, but many were, so I'm making this post to explain my thoughts on the new additions that have taken the spots of some that have been standards here for years like Smith or Azores Dark.
For me there is no attachment to specific varieties. Yes.. I do have favorites, but at the end of the day if something is performing better and tasting better than another it will become my favorite. It has become very clear to me over the last 2 or more years that figs with high drying capabilities will be the most superior performers in my yard. It's just too humid here. Fig fruit quality suffers dramatically in high humidity. Having experimented enough and with the drive of wanting my figs to rival those in California or another dry/warm place, I finally found two very special figs that can withstand almost anything here. Verdino del Nord and Elba are basically indestructible.
They don't crack, split and they resist fermentation extremely well. The interior is almost never exposed to the outdoor conditions. They also have some of the best drying capabilities I have ever seen in a fig. Sure.. Calimyrna is the standard commercial fig used for drying throughout the world, but would Calimyrna dry here in this humidity? I don't think so. There are different levels to this. Like anything else. There's a spectrum of drying and even shriveling capabilities as I like to call it. Maybe the size of the fig plays a part? Still more to learn on the subject, but what is clear is that they both will start to dry at about a 6-7 day hang time. This enables them to ripen to perfection consistently. If my figs are ripening to perfection at a higher rate, that also means that the flavor is consistently high. Why should I consider a fig like Black Madeira that in its own right is one of the best tasting figs that exists, but I may only get a handful per season at that oh so amazing flavor when I can get almost every fig off of the tree at that same level of quality from these two varieties. The peak level of flavor may not be exactly there, but its close enough and in my opinion these two varieties compete with tree ripened and caprified figs grown in California. Trust me.. I've eaten them and I dream about what they tasted like on occasion.
That last statement is key when considering my best fig varieties. Every fig I'm about to mention has great rain resistance, split resistance, resistance to spoilage, not all have such amazing drying capabilities, but they're super reliable and anyone can use these recommendations in their humid climate yard. They all ripen to perfection at an extremely high rate for this climate. So my point really is in a sense that reliability translates to flavor, fruit quality and overall how happy you'll be. Instead of trying to grow the next best tasting fig, people in a similar climate to my own should be focusing on instead what will consistently ripen to perfection.
Now onto the list...
1. Verdino del Nord - I've spoken at great length on this fig so I'll try to keep it short. Second only to Elba in terms of drying capabilities, but extremely flavorful. Moreso than Elba and really does rival figs like the Coll de Damas here. This fig will rival the best tasting fig varieties even in California and anyone saying it doesn't, hasn't had it for very long. It also seems impervious to insect and animal pressure because of it's skin and skin color. It's small in size, but what amazes me is the varieties strange habit of putting out 2-3 nodes where there should only be 1. Therefore you get more leaves and more figs per length of branch than just about every variety I've grown.
2. Nerucciolo d'Elba - As I said it's even better on the drying capability scale than Verdino del Nord. Drying starts at 6 days, which is unheard of. Overwhelmingly beautiful fig as well. The interior is almost black with a complex berry flavor that does not disappoint.
#'s 3-6 are very close to each other and it's quite difficult for me at this time to definitively give each variety a particular number for reasons I'll mention.
3. Smith - As most of you probably know, Smith was my favorite fig at the end of 2019. At least publicly it was. Besides that it's a standard, it's extremely flavorful and for me.. that gives it a lot of points. Although not indestructible like 1&2, but simply amazing in quality the majority of the time. It even has above average drying capabilities.
4. Hative d'Argentile - I am very reluctant to say, but I think it's correct that Hative is a slightly better Smith. With better overall reliability, it's less finnicky and even should be more productive. To make things worse for Smith, in the earlier part of my season, Hative tasted better. It really wowed me this year. The later parts, Smith had the edge, so who knows what my thoughts will be next year, but I have become a big fan of this fig as it has matured.
5. Moro de Caneva - This in actuality is my 3rd most reliable variety, which is why I am hesitant to put Smith or Hative above it in ranking. The flavor is amazing, but not as special as Smith or Hative and for that reason it's at #5 until my trees mature more and potentially impress me further. Maybe I am crazy because the fig almost never spoils or splits. What's strange is that it doesn't have drying capabilities from what I can tell, but it does shrivel. In that shriveled stage the variety turns into fig candy and is ridiculously sweet, exploding with flavor and is hard to beat, which believe it or not happens consistently.
6. Rossellino - This fig is similar. It's also fig candy, but even more complex and super fruity in that state than the Caneva. The difference is.. it actually does have drying capabilities and some that are quite good. I see no reason why it can't be my number 3 someday for it's spectacular flavor and high drying capabilities. Unfortunately, I need more testing to see where on the spectrum it falls. What I can say for sure is that it's not on under the Hardy Chicago umbrella like I had previously thought. It's actually quite different if you really know the details. Up close it may seem visually similar in leaf and in fruit, but I assure you that it's not in the same category. The flavor is also wildly different.
7. Hardy Chicago - Finally this brings us to the Hardy Chicago types themselves. Specifically Azores Dark and Malta Black. These two fall under this umbrella, but are actually quite different in flavor. Last year I would have said that these were at the number 2 spot and look how far they've fallen. Isn't that amazing? What many would consider the most reliable fig in the northeast is now my #7. Insanity.
8. Campaniere - Lastly we have the Campaniere, which I think is a small step behind the HC types. Truly impressive with it's overall reliability and it also has drying capabilities. One to keep an eye on for sure as it matures. Definitely my best super early variety, but who knows? Maybe it'll replace the HC types someday.
That's all for now folks. I think this is a very safe list of 8. Any more and I feel like things get a bit hairy. What is for sure is that any of these would make great choices for you in a humid place. Highly recommend and I'm very excited to see what new varieties can break into this top 8 in the future. You never know with all of the huge genetic diversity of figs. That really is the best part. Who even thought this would be possible?