figs

The Dubious Dozen (#1-#4: Sultane, Wuhan, Negretta, Smith)

An ironic itemizing, part of Fear of Figs:

1. Sultane is a fig that bred itself into irrelevance. Genetics show that many renowned figs descend from Sultane, better ones, one would hope, more complex, such as the Col de Dames, the Bordissots, and many others. Sultane must have been a potent fig in its time, given so many descendants. Few figs today are more simple than Sultane, which seems more ordinary even than the ever-humble Marseilles Black, the omnipresent fig of world ficus. Sultane is purple, small, amorphous, blunt, a surprisingly pleasant fruit, berry-red and firm of pulp, dark and pretty of skin. Though Sultane boasts refined and elegant pulp with thin and fruity skin, strangely the sum is not only no greater than its parts, it’s much less! Sultane has the look of a modest wild fig, provincial, weedy. French for Sultana, Sultane means wife, daughter, mother, or mistress of a strong ruler. The fig seems named after a ruler of the far past, long before any heyday of power or height of civilization, as if the land of Sultane, the ruler’s realm, were little more than a collection of mud huts. Or possibly Sultane served as a peoples’ fig, distributed by women connected to a great ruler of a grand land. At some point, Sultane cut loose, spawning entire families of esteemed fig varieties. Sultane, a medieval fig? An ancient fig? Sultane may be the least threatening fig of all, a mild and accomplished fruit but from a time long gone by. Sultane is a tender and generic punch berry fig whose tremendous and terrible legacy is to have bred itself into near oblivion. How is it possible that while each part of Sultane is impressive, the most that can be said about the fig as a whole is that it is not unimpressive? It’s as if Sultane purposefully effaced itself for the greater glory of its progeny. Truly the most frightening thing about Sultane is that it’s difficult to figure out why anyone should fear this fig at all.

2. The Wuhan fig rattles everyone. This fig is sourced from the city of Wuhan, China, the same city that originated the COVID-19 pandemic. Granted, the one has nothing to do with the other – the fig and the corona virus might as well be of different planets. Nevertheless, there are reasons having nothing to do with China and viruses to be leery of the Wuhan fig. For one: inexplicability. Wuhan is deep dark on the outside and bright orange on the inside, a rare and disturbing alignment in fig world. How did all that light get inside all that dark? For another, the formal look of this fig is almost unfruit-like. Wuhan may as well be wearing a suit and tie, so proper does it appear in its dark maroon uniform and slick sheen. It has a tightly encased vertically ribbed rigid oblong upright form. Wuhan fig, carnivalesque on the inside yet prim and proper on the outside – a bit weird, even by the bizarre standards of fig world. So fear it! Give this unusual fruit a wide berth! Stay the length and breadth of China away from Wuhan fig!

3. Negretta is a spy fig. Few figs are smaller than Negretta. None are darker. Few figs are less visible on the tree. Few figs are talked about so little. Many figs are bigger, brighter, far more renowned than Negretta. Many figs ripen more abundantly amid fancier leaves. Many figs are far more commonly bought, sold, and traded. Most figs have more flamboyant names than Negretta. Almost every fig has more tender skin than Negretta’s chewy hide. Negretta seems almost cannibalistic, autocannibalistic, autosarcophagic, because it makes a kind of dehydrated fruit leather food out of its own living skin. Negretta creates its own shadow. Negretta hides. Negretta seems to spy on you and your family and friends and neighbors. Such a small fig gets a sizable write-up here because no one would notice it otherwise. Can anything good at all be said about Negretta, this candy shadow of a fig, with its tiny size so easy to discount? Its slick black sphere, despite being often speckled white, hides neckless, tight to limbs, under unassuming leaves. Negretta ripens early and is not heavy with berry flavor, maybe a tinge at times, a bleeding edge, mostly honied and amber of pulp, sometimes a red tint. Negretta grows something akin to a chewy black jacket of a wild grape but much jammier and sweeter on the gel interior. Can be tricky to get the lingering flavor and feel and piercing look of Negretta out of your mouth and mind. Negretta looks and tastes like a cross between Marseilles Black and Violette de Bordeaux and Pingo de Mel, with more honey in its pulp than anything else, as if, strangely, from a golden fig. Few figs ripen earlier, or leave a more lingering taste than this shady shadowy muscular muscadine of a little honey-fruity fig. If Negretta is the humble hidden treasure of the fig world, it only goes to show how nutty figs are: what use is a fig you can’t find to eat in the first place? Negretta is too stealthy for its own good. Best to track it down, seek it out, and then gobble up the crafty little fruit before it spies you first and disappears.

4. Smith fig, ounce for pitiful ounce, is the most overrated fig on Earth. Garden-mouthed, fig-brained, fruit-drunk figgers have given this splotchy green-blue-yellow skin, red pulp fig with the most generic of names the biggest undeserved reputation of any fig anywhere on the planet. Smith. And that is saying more than most non-fig growers can remotely comprehend, given how inexplicably overrated is every fig on Earth. So what if Smith is a brilliant multi-colored gem of a fig on the outside and succulent inside? It’s as if fig growers think they are growing the most delicious, sweetest, easiest growing, fastest fruiting, most luscious, to-die-for fruit in all of human history, past, present, future, forevermore. Preposterous! For the love of figs! Everyone! Calm down! Smith fig is as overrated as its name is bland. Sure, Smith ripens in lively multicolor coat and boasts fancy leaves and an intense berry pulp, but the qualities of this pedestrian size fig can be found in larger fig varieties. Smith, aka TX BA-1, is no more colorful of skin than Planera and Violet Sepor, no more flavorful than Black Madeira and Paradiso. Smith’s leaves are no more fancy than Longue d’Aout, Brunswick, and Dalmatie. So why all the high praise for this splotchy dollop of fruit, no bigger than any number of other bitty varieties that are often put down due to their ho-hum size. Should it not be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich-flavored fig to receive otherworldly praise? Too much to drool about nothing, a connoisseur’s delusion, a dupe’s delight. You can’t judge a fig by its name, good, bad, or indifferent, or always trust in reputation. Smith is the living misleading proof. Like a real smith strikes metal over and over to make valuable items, Smith fig strikes the belly and the brain one after the other like those little delusions we feed ourselves that are too good to let go.

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