Picking Some Of Franco’s Figs

by: Marlene email

Picking In The Breeze

The first thing to be said about Franco  is that he is  a Northampton County icon,  an interesting,  feisty, warm-hearted  transplant from New York as of about 20 plus years ago.   Born in Italy, he still retains a colorful  Italian accent but overlaid with a strong twist of Brooklynese.   Every Tuesday night you can tune into his radio show on local station  WESR  to hear him play some classic tunes and expound on the issues of  the day.  Franco is a tireless fund-raiser for community causes,  an active member of the Chamber of Commerce,  a Sunday afternoon fishing guru to his grand kids and he bakes a mean pizza too !

The pizza part is important because Franco and his wife Kathy are the colorful  proprietors  of the Little Italy restaurant in Nassawadox, Virginia,  home to the best meatball subs ever.  (http://littleitaly.homestead.com)   When he’s not overseeing the kitchen,  Franco is busy planning Little Italy’s next fun event– possibly a night with a singer of  Sinatra tunes  or an Elvis impersonator  or  the bi-monthly Texas Hold-em Poker Tournaments,  with profits going to charity,  this month to Habitat for Humanity and the Little League.  The list of Franco’s activities and accomplishments is almost endless,  including a run for the Board of Supervisors.

So when my middle daughter was picking up a vegetable calzone from the restaurant the other day,  Franco inquired as to whether she liked  figs  and if so,  stop by his house and pick some,  his back yard  tree is loaded with an early ripening variety.  Well,  we all love fresh  figs and our two varieties do not ripen for another couple weeks so we took advantage of his offer  last Sunday.  It was a beautiful breezy day,  sun shining but not too hot,  I was in the neighborhood to take some photos of a  new waterfront lot listing and it seemed like a perfect time to round up a few figs for  breakfast.

Fruits Of Our Labours

Now the first thing to be said about fresh figs is this —  if you’ve never had one,   you’ve missed a real winner in the fruit arena !   Unfortunately,  they are very a delicate, soft  fruit  and so fresh figs  are seldom found in a grocery store– you usually have to have a friend with a tree or better yet,  your very own tree(s).   The Eastern Shore of Virginia is a great place to grow figs because we have rich soils and a mild climate ( figs don’t do well in cold climates,  freezing usually kills them, so they have to be grown in pots and moved indoors in the winter).   Here they are grown in the yard  just like any other fruit tree and they thrive without any work.   Just stick them in the ground in the late fall,  forget about them  and in a few years you’ll have a tree with all the figs you can eat and give away.    There are at least a dozen varieties here  which with  I’m familiar,  with  different sizes and ripening times,  but  the most commonly grown figs  on the Eastern Shore are the  Brown Turkey, small, only about an inch long,  the Black Mission fig, very large, almost the size of a small apple and the Celeste,  a lovely pale green variety. 

We have a huge  Black Mission tree and a smallish Brown Turkey tree in our little home orchard and they keep us well supplied with mid to  late season figs.   But Franco’s early ripening figs are a different variety,  not sure what– they remind me of those candies with a liquid center because when I  bite into one of  his  figs  they  squirt  juice from what seems to be a hollow,  juice filled center.   Absolutely wonderful ,  sweet and acid at the same time,  sort of like fresh pineapple in that respect,  after a while your tongue starts to tingle.   While my husband likes fig preserves and  dried figs as well,  I only like  them fresh,  preferably well chilled,  usually for breakfast or for dessert.   However,  served with a thin slice of salty Virginia ham  (http://smithfieldhams.com  ) ,  they make a tasty lunch or appetizer,  which is what I think I’ll do with the rest of  the  figs we picked from  Franco’s  backyard tree.   Yum, yum !

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