Mangeshi: The Light of My Eyes Figs – The Fruit of My Childhood Memories

By: Francis Kalo Khosho
August never fails to remind me of my hometown Mangeshi, the light of my eyes. Sweet memories of time spent in

Mangeshi flood over me time and time again, particularly each August when I see the fig fruits ripen on my trees here in California. I have several fig trees and everyday when I come home from work I go straight to my orchard and inspect each fig tree. For whatever reason, every farmer always feels compelled to examine each and every fig on the tree, inspecting its size and its color. I also have many other fruit trees, but my favorite has always
                                                                                      The Fig Tree
been the fig tree. There are varieties of figs, all with a common soft flesh containing a multitude of tiny edible seeds. Figs range in color from purple/black, to green and vary in shape from round to oval. However, the most common in the Mangeshi orchards were Teni Komi, Rehani (first to ripe), Be’anati, Arzani (was excellent to make fig sheets – pateryatha), Shengari, Mathera (not good to taste), Tepsi (small figs), and Hershani (does not bear fruit). The figs from the vineyards were called Teni d’Karmani and were excellent for drying. The mountain fig trees were found in the Mangeshi mountains and were wild figs, naturally growing in the mountainous regions. The only difference between mountain figs and others were there tolerance for drying. They usually did not need any irrigation and were able to survive extremely dry weather.

When I was young living in Mangeshi, we were blessed to have fig trees in our orchards, vineyards and the Mangeshi mountains. The trees were so big so as to produce an umbrella of shade that we would use to sit under, particularly farmers who would eat their lunches under the massive canopy. It was a time in which we could rest and be at peace, shielded from the hot summer sun. The figs would grow on multiple branches that could reach up to 50 to 100 feet in height and 20 to 50 feet in width. I would especially love picking the figs from the top of the tree. While climbing up the tree the leaves would always irritate my skin and my exposed arms and legs would itch for quite some time after I climbed down. The milky latex that would seep out of the leaves and figs upon cutting was a serious eye irritant, but also served as a very good meat tenderizer.
                                                                     Milky sap dropping from the freshly cut fig
Climbing the trees was a great childhood pastime, and for those of us growing up in the region, climbing came naturally as there was no such thing as a fear of heights. We would always find a large branch that could support our weight and look for a sturdy area to place our feet and secure our hands. Our actions were similar to those of climbing animals such as monkeys or koalas in the way that we would climb and our natural ability to scale the trees. We would get used to climbing at a very early age, the older we got, the better we became at climbing up more quickly. We would hook our knees and arms around branches or use our hands to pull ourselves up in order to keep secure and not drop our basket filled with figs.

The fig tree has always been somewhat of a mystery to me in that the rest of the fruit trees in Mangeshi had flowers, so why didn’t the fig tree have them as well? My curiosity led me to finally look it up and I discovered that botanically, figs do have flowers, but not in the traditional sense. Fig flowers are called syconiums (inside-out flowers). In other words, all you and I can see is the outside of the fig developing, however the flower itself is inside the fig. For example, some fig trees require pollination and rely on fig wasps to get inside the fig and pollinate the fruit, or flower portion. When the wasp pollinates the flower dies and is broken down by enzymes in the fig. If too many fig wasps try to pollinate the fruit at the same time, the fig can split and if it opens you see the ‘flower’ (Perqeya). Fig flowers – ‘Perqeya’

The figs are one of the earliest known fruits to be cultivated, dating all the way back to 5000 B.C. Historical Sumerian tablets record the use and consumption of figs all the way back to 2500 B.C. Fig trees have influenced cultures, and have been celebrated in several religious traditions. The fig tree has been used to teach, cited in prophecy, and also used to discipline. There has been mention of the tree in Greek mythology, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism. In Islam, the fig is one of the two most sacred trees. There is even a ‘sura’ in the Quran dedicated to the tree named “The Fig” (At-tin). In Christianity, the most famous biblical reference to figs is that in which Jesus cursed a fig tree for not producing any fruit for him as he passed by, a curse that ended up killing the fig tree. (Matthew 21:18). The Jewish king Hezekiah was cured of the plague by applying figs directly to the infected spot. Adam and Eve famously covered their nakedness with fig leaves. Also, in Deuteronomy, the Promised Land was described as “a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; a land where you will eat food without scarcity, in which you will not lack anything.” Much like the bountiful lands of Mangeshi.
                                                                                        The process of drying figs

We always wanted to pick figs to eat and also pick some to give to friends and to take home for family to eat fresh or to dry in the sun. In Mangeshi, drying figs was a simple way to preserve your harvest through the Winter. There were several ways you could go about it. I am going to tell you the fastest and easiest way that we would do it in Mangeshi, which I now use here in California. Drying figs was a laborious process, figs dry well but you need to be sure that these figs are fully ripe before you begin. As soon as they ripe, cut them in half and place them skin down, forming a rectangular sheet, to dry on a large flat basket (Pathorta). After two days, you then place the second layer, this time with the skin up and leave to dry in the sun for another week (Pateryatha). Or, a faster technique would be to take whole figs, dip them in ash water, and leave them to dry in the sun (Zarekei). Dipping them in the ash water helps to kill any germs that may be on them. When drying figs in any way, you need to have warm days with a slight breeze and there should also be a little humidity in the air. Make sure to lay the figs in a spot where they will get direct sunlight, in Mangeshi this was on the roof of the village houses. Or, you can also put them on a string and dry them. (Khroze) It is possible to identify when they have dried out simply by the texture and consistency. The external covering will be wrinkly yet able to bend effortlessly. The internal part of the fig will still be tender but completely lacking juice. Dry figs in Mangeshi were kept in air-tight containers that would also block out light and were then stored in dark rooms (Bestery). The figs were kept for Winter and eaten just as snacks and in doing so was a good way to keep a tab on your health.
                                                            A mix of delicious figs in harvest basket
It is my hope that this article was able to take you back to a time in which we were all youthfully climbing trees, playing under the shade, and indulging in the fruit of the land. We were blessed to enjoy the sweet treats the fig trees had to offer, that would nourish our bellies and please our taste buds. From the varieties of figs all over the world, I would like to extend the bounty of the harvest from my fig basket here in San Diego to all of you in Mangeshi and all Mangeshniyi all over the world. Happy Harvesting.