Adriatic figs ready for picking on the shoulder of the road.
Ever pay $4 for a teeny weeny basket of fresh figs?
Not the codger. Not anymore, anyway.
He shamelessly forages figs from roadside volunteers in the land of fruit and nuts, and has no qualms about scrounging grounded fruit.
You see, volunteer fig trees grow wild in the Sacramento Valley.
You find them next to highways, country roads, and fence lines, and along seepages, creeks, and rivers.
The story has it that Junipero Serra's followers planted black figs around the missions of Alta California.
I once read that the descendants of these Mission or Franciscan figs can still be found, but far from adobe walls.
I live in a time warp so to speak, and browsing wild mission figs always gave me a vague but gratifying sense of connection to the state's past.
Well, googling California figs disabused me of my romantic notion.
My volunteer figs look more like the green Adriatic figs brought to California by American settlers after the gold rush.
They are thick-skinned and pale green on the outside and a deep reddish color inside.
Adriatic figs were planted as a cash crop in the San Joaquin and Sacramento Valleys, and in 1889 ranchers shipped their first dried figs to markets in the east.
I imagine they were pretty chewy when they arrived in New York.
In my experience, drying Adriatic figs pass through the gooey candy stage only briefly.
When fully dry they're as leathery as snake eggs, which doesn't stop me from gnawing them.
You can still boil them into a wonderful jam.
But the dried Adriatic figs didn't win over eastern palates.
So Smyrna figs were introduced as a substitute in the 1880s.
Last Sunday we picked figs.
A few years ago the tree was a glorious specimen, fermenting figs carpeted the ground, and a dusky-footed wood rat had stacked sticks and dried figs among the multiple trunks.
Then PG&E had its annual power pole ritual and chain sawed the biggest trunks.
This year the old fig set fruit again.
The rat nest was gone, but a rodent had been dining there.
The leftovers of a rodent's feast --
possibly a squirrel, but more likely a rat.