Perhaps one of the more iconic trees growing next to older homes in east Texas is a fig tree. Figs are one of the first fruits planted by settlers. Figs are also mentioned numerous times in the Bible.
If you are looking for a great addition to your landscape that can be expected to produce, consider figs. When planted in a good location, figs can thrive and do exceedingly well for many years.
My dear friend, Jan Knox makes some of the best fig preserves I’ve had. She and her husband Aubrey have a wonderful fig tree at their residence south of Lufkin. It’s about fifteen feet tall and bears a crop annually.
When choosing a site for figs, select an area that has sun for most of the day. Although figs can be grown in all types of soil, they do not tolerate poorly drained sites. Avoid sites and soils where water stands for more than 24 hours after a rain. In areas of poor drainage, roots receive insufficient oxygen, which results in stunted growth and eventual death of the tree. If you already have a fig tree and it survived the water-soaked soil earlier this year, then you are probably in the clear.
There are three more commonly recommended varieties for this area. ‘Celeste,’ which is the most cold hardy, and is very productive. ‘Texas Everbearing’ is another common, hardy variety with large early fruit. ‘Brown Turkey,’ is another old favorite that does well. These last two can sometimes be injured in freezes, but come back to bearing quickly.
Soil moisture must be managed carefully because most roots of the fig trees are close to the soil surface and can easily dry out. Figs are very susceptible to soil-borne nematodes that feed on small roots and reduce water movement into the tree. For these reasons, apply water to the trees as drought develops. Slight leaf wilting in the afternoon is a good indication of water stress.
Mulching with straw or grass clippings helps maintain uniform soil moisture and reduces weed competition for available soil water. Water stress frequently causes premature fruit drop of Texas fig varieties which do not have true seeds. This problem is very common in hot, dry areas when the fig tree is grown in shallow soil and roots are nematode infested.
Trees planted in shallow sites are subject to injury or death when the soil is saturated with water. Good water management, including regular irrigation and mulching, helps maintain tree health and vigor and reduces fruit drop.
Jan’s fig tree produces about approximately 50 pints of fig preserves each year depending on whether she preserves them whole or mashed.
She has been gracious enough to share the recipe below that she got from her mother, Polly Bonds, who taught Jan how to cook.
For each quart of figs to be preserved, you’ll need 2 Tbs. baking soda and 3 cups boiling water to cover.
First, sort the fruit and cut off the stems.
Then you rinse the figs and cover with the baking soda and boiling water. Jan dissolves the baking soda in the boiling water and then pours it over the figs. Let sit approximately 5 minutes. Drain and rinse well with cool water.
Now, for every 2 cups of fruit, add 1 cup sugar and 3/4 cup water (overripe figs – use less water) and add slices of fresh lemon (approximately one lemon per large pot of preserves)
Next, in a very large pot or Dutch oven, bring syrup to boil. When at a boil, add prepared figs and cook on slow boil until desired tenderness and thickness of syrup. Ripeness of figs determines length. Do not overcook or figs will be hard.
Lastly, pack in hot sterilized jars while figs are still simmering. Be sure to wipe any fruit bits or juice from top rim of jars so they will seal well. Add the lids and seal. Then let cool and enjoy.
Jan did share a jar with of me last year and I can attest they were outstanding.