Monthly Archives: August 2013

Figgin Out

It’s fig season on Farthing Street.

figshotThis annual harvest is accompanied by a sense of urgency because there is always a very short window of time, sometimes just a day or two,  when a fig is truly ripe and ready for consumption.  Left on the tree too long, the fig will ferment and become food for wasps and bees.

For weeks  I had waited, somewhat impatiently, for that special moment.  Shawnna would come home from work and find me outside, my face buried in the branches of the tree, deftly squeezing the bulbous fruit for signs of “mushiness.”   The mushiness means that the fig is sweet and juicy.

IMG_2265When that glorious day arrived, we had so many figs that I filled up a mixing bowl from the kitchen.  I decided to try a recipe from our mediterranean cookbook, which involves wrapping the figs with pancetta and bay leaves, and then cooking them in the oven.

IMG_2262For you vegetarians or those of you on a kosher diet,  pancetta is pork belly meat that is salt-cured and contains  peppercorns.  It is heavenly.  I was caught off guard when I took it out of the package.  It smelled so good that for a minute I lost the ability to concentrate.  Fortunately I had already halved the figs, and the rest was easy. I gently wrapped my figs in the strips of pancetta, like little pigs-in-blankets. The bay leaves were the finishing touch.  I placed them in a baking dish and set in the oven at 300 degrees for 20 minutes.   Shawnna and I couldn’t get enough of them.  Figs in the raw are tasty enough,  but this was a culinary delight.


Fig trees, which thrive in  mediterranean climates, are drought-tolerant plants. That means you don’t have to water them much, provided your yard gets a lot of sun.  If you live in the Triangle, consider getting one.  The leaves are tough and leathery (you may recall that Adam and Eve, in their postlapsarian shame, made clothes out of them.)  I’ve noticed that the leaves seem to be impervious to the pests that like to chew up our fruit trees.

Plant a fig tree this fall! You won’t regret it.

City of Comfrey, Part 1

Listen up gardeners, it’s time to talk about the miracle plant, comfrey.
The plant, which has pretty pink or purple blossoms depending on the species, was called knitbone for thousands of years because of its ability to speed the healing of bone injuries.  The ancient Greek historian Herodatus wrote about it, and it’s very name, symphytum, comes from the Greek symphyo which means to “make grow together.”  In addition to healing fractures, the plant can been used to treat abrasions, skin irritations, insect bites and inflammation  associated with rheumatoid arthritis.  I’ve heard of people rubbing their arms and legs with comfrey leaves before working out in the garden. The secret ingredient is allantoin,  which lives in both the leaves and the roots of the plant.

comfreyIn the garden, comfrey can be grown as a living mulch.  That’s because the plant is a root accumulator, sucking up nutrients into its roots and leaves.  Hearing about orchardists who plant comfrey around their fruit trees, I decided to plant ring of it around our plum tree this  summer.  Not only does it fertilize the tree now, but it keeps the weeds out, and the bees love the pretty purple flowers.

Because the leaves contain minerals like potassium, calcium, and magnesium,  they make a great fertilizer. Our potassium-hungry tomato plants especially enjoy a liquid fertilizer mix of comfrey leaves and water.  We create this mixture by putting the leaves in our watering can, filling it with water and then letting it soak for a  while.

comfrey leavesSome of you might be smitten now, thinking Comfrey, where have you been all my life?
To those of you, heed this stern warning: comfrey grows very aggressively.  I’ve been astounded at how quickly the comfrey patch has grown up around our plum tree.

I pictured it filling up our whole yard, then spilling out into the neighborhood and spreading across Durham.  It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.  My legs get itchy riding my bike on the greenway, so having comfrey leaves available to me on the trail would be an added luxury.

Durham could  then become the city of comfrey. Suddenly Tupac Shakur popped into my head…..In the citaaay, the city of Comfrey.  This could be a  really great track to perform  next year at the Durham Hip-hop Summit.  I’ll need to work on my flow, though.

Please stay tuned for part 2.  I’m now working feverishly in the basement, like Grandpa Munster, to come up with a comfrey ointment. This could be big at the farmer’s market.