On a summer day my friend and I took a trip out to Havelock North to visit Te Mata Figs on Napier Road. Fresh figs are difficult to find in this country, so earlier in the year my friend and I bought a fig tree. Our Brunoro Black fig has now sprouted up about a meter in a month, and we have lots of questions regarding its growth and care. It began December more of a ‘fig-stick’ with large leaves, growing in a pot in our small garden, but by the end of December it was sprouting up madly and we are worried that we will have to find it a new home if it keeps up the growth rate.
On getting out of the car into the shingle carpark, I was intrigued by the large artichoke growing there. I needed to have a closer look at it as Mum and I had recently experimented with growing artichokes (see an earlier article I posted on this). The plant was much larger than mine or Mum’s and spiky purple flowers covered the tops of the taller stems. Our artichokes hadn’t got that far as we harvested the artichokes before they could flower. Anyway we were here for the figs….but then I was distracted again as I spotted a large, long-haired dog, lying in a patch of shade out of the hot sun. He was very friendly and came over to meet us. We were told he is the faithful resident ‘helper’.
We walked into a large shed. A portion of the shed had been sectioned off and a table was devoted to fig based artisan products – and samples. On arrival, we were greeted and offered some Spanish Fig Cake (or Pan de higo). It was a very nice cake, quite compact and with a light crunch of the fig seeds in the cake, like the sound that popping candy makes in the mouth. This product is sugar free, but it was still sweet. We were then offered Salame di Fichi. We were told that this was a very popular product, and to prove the point, while we were there, a customer arrived to purchase some. If she had made a special trip out to the figgery to purchase this product, it must be good! My friend and I agreed that this was a lovely product, sweet, but not too sweet. I was imagining enjoying a glass of red wine while eating this. (See my previous post on wines for some great Hawke’s Bay Reds for between $20-25. http://inthekitchenwithmum.wordpress.com/2014/01/12/three-great-hawkes-bay-red-wines/) As well as red wine, the Salame can be paired with coffee or cheeses. This would be a really handy product to have on hand.
All Te Mata Fig’s products are gluten free and contain no preservatives or additives. Plus the fig crops are spray free.
We were talking to the owner, Murray. He was very keen to talk everything figs, which was great because we wanted to know everything figs, and we learnt a great deal. Murray has been growing figs here for six years with his partner, Helen. When they bought the orchard, it was planted with cherry trees, which I remember driving past many times and seeing netting over steel frames to keep the birds off the cherries. The cherry orchard was converted to figs as the Hawke’s Bay’s soil and hot dry climate is ideal for growing fig trees and Te Mata Figs grow 27 different varieties. Growing a wide variety means there is a wider time span for harvesting the figs as different varieties ripen at different stages. The harvest is between January to mid-year, with the main crop ready in autumn. The harvest is boosted by ‘breber crops’. This is the fruit that is produced on last years wood, and they are a bonus crop.
I learnt some interesting ‘fig facts’ : the fig fruit is actually an inverted flower, so the flower is seen when the fig is cut open ; when the fruit droops, it is ready to pick, as the nectar in the inverted flower weighs the fruit down ; the darker the colour inside the fig fruit, the stronger the flavour ; figs can be pruned in the second week of July, but need to be pruned carefully to protect the ‘breber crops’ ; fig trees can live for longer than 800 years ; fig leaves are scratchy ; they like limey soils, (alkaline which has a high PH) and a warm and fairly dry climate ; they like full sun ; they don’t need too much water until they are fruiting ; the fruit swells in summer and is ready for harvest in Autumn. I am amazed I remembered all this!
We got talking about our Brunoro Black fig tree. Murray led us outside to show us some large fig trees, which happened to be Brunoro Black, the trunk of which was the resident cat’s scratching post. The trees were only three years old, but already were tall, with wide spreading branches and had a thick trunk. My face probably said it all – I was thinking: uh-oh, in two years time, our Brunoro Black fig tree will have outgrown not only its pot, but also our small garden. But, all is ok. Murray gave us tips on how to prune it back to keep it small and we can still keep it in a pot. Planting figs in a pot has the advantage of restricting the growth of the tree and maximizing the growth of the fruit instead. In fact, figs are ideal for espalier and for planting in containers. That information was exactly what we needed to hear.
The ‘figgery’ also sells fig trees, so we bought a small fig tree, an Adriatic fig. The fruit of the Adriatic remain green on the outside, but are a rich red inside, with a great flavour. The advantage of being green on the outside is that this fools the birds into thinking the fruit is not ripe yet. With the Adriatic, the birds don’t see the colour gradation of ripening fruit, unlike, for example, the Brunoro Black which changes from green to brown to black when ripe, alerting the birds.
Birds are the only problem the figs have, nothing else attacks them, so there is no need to spray the trees with pesticides. Overseas, there is a bug that crawls into the fig fruit and lays eggs and mates in the fruit, but fortunately it is not in this country.
We also bought a large jar of Just Fig Jam, which won the 2012 Cuisine Artisan Award. The jam is made from Adriatic Figs. We sampled the Jam and I can see why it won an award. The jam is honestly like eating a ripe fig, the taste and the fragrance is all there. It is a true, pure representation of a ripe fig, and it is great to know that the taste of pure fig is preserved for the months when fresh figs are not available. It has no chemical additives or preservatives, and as the name says, it is Just Fig Jam. I can think of many uses for this jam – not only on toast, but spread on a bagel with cream cheese, an icecream topping, a topping for pancakes, as an addition to a bowl of fruit for breakfast, stirred through plain yoghurt, or with cheese and a glass of red wine. This jam is also available as “Just Fig Jam with Orange and Ginger”.
Our purchases: Adriatic fig tree and a pot of the largest size available of Just Fig Jam.
On our way home, we called in to see David Trubridge’s outlet store and workshop. He is very eco-conscious and creates innovative designs that link back to nature. He is well known for his lighting designs and has branched out into jewellery, fabrics and rugs. His curtain fabric is the most gorgeous I have seen. This photo was taken through the window as the shop was shut for the Christmas break. I like to stop by and check for any new designs as there is always something new. Through the window I spotted a new design I hadn’t seen before. www.davidtrubridge.com
In Summer, Hawke’s Bay can be scorching hot, but this day was sunny with a nice cool breeze and was perfect for touring about in the car, so we took an extended drive out along the Napier sea front and past a long row of Norfolk Pine trees. In Napier we drove past the new Museum, past a vintage car rally, and around to the port where a huge cruise ship was docked. We then drove through the port of Ahuriri, with its many botique shops. Our last stop was to buy a Hawke’s Bay red wine – I wish I’d bought that Salame de Fichi now. I will do so next visit as we will definitely be making another trip out to Te Mata Figs. I want to check if fresh figs are for sale later in the year and by then we will be needing some more Just Fig Jam too. Te Mata Figs products are also available at the Hawke’s Bay Farmers’ Market www.hawkesbayfarmersmarket.co.nz
And as a postscript……
We visited the Te Mata Figs stand at the Hastings Farmers’ Market. We purchased both the Salame Di Fichi products – the Fig and Almond and the Fig and Walnut with Ginger.
Here are the two products artfully displayed in a basket of walnuts. (Mum and I foraged the windfall walnuts from local trees).