What am I doing messing with fig trees in Vermont, you ask? Well, for one thing, this is a "Brown Turkey" fig, bred to withstand temperatures of -10F. And for another, I have made careful plans to move it to a sheltered spot in the winter, and cover it with a thermal blanket specially made for plants.
I'm probably starting to sound like a member of the sorority that puts sweaters and raincoats and booties on dogs. But if you've ever tasted a ripe fig still warm from the sun, or even if you've smelled the sugary scent of fig leaves, you know what devotion a fig tree can inspire.
However, the main reason that I couldn't resist this little tree when I saw it in the nursery was the memory of the annual fig tree picnic in the summers of my Catalan childhood.
My grandparents owned some farm land in Castell del Remei, an area that has since become world famous for its vintages, and on this land was a fig tree as big as a house. I know that objects remembered from childhood tend to shrink when viewed through adult eyes. But I have objective proof of the hugeness of that tree.
On the day of the picnic, my grandparents, my great-aunt and -uncle, my mother, father, two aunts, an uncle and I would pile into a horse-drawn wagon and make our way on the summer-dusty roads to Castell del Remei and the big fig tree.
Once we got there, the picnic things were unpacked and a fire was started on which to grill tiny lamb chops. The tablecloth was spread on the ground, the wine poured, the bread sliced. The horse was unhitched from the cart. And the ten of us would arrange ourselves around the food and eat and drink and then nap to the sound of the cicadas and the bells from the distant church.
And all of this--the fire and the family, the tablecloth and the wine, the horse and the cart--fit, with room to spare, under the branches of that one fig tree.
My grandmother would dry the summer's fig harvest on straw mats. She would spread these out on the terrace and set the figs on them to dry, covering them with fine netting to keep off the wasps and flies.
Months later in Barcelona, in the dark of winter, I would arrive from school one day and find that a basket had come from my grandparents' farm, bearing home-made sausages and blood-puddings, eggs individually wrapped in newspaper and, best of all, a bag of almonds picked and shelled by my grandmother's hands and a tin box full of dried figs.
If you ever find yourself in possession of a good dried fig--not bone-dry, but still leathery and malleable--and you have an almond handy, push the almond pointed-end first into the fig until it disappears, then take a bite. And you'll know why I put such stock in my little tree.