By Yiling Wong
I have two pet twigs in my house. One looks like a stick in the mud, right? Its sister is showing off with little leaves here.
My two fig twigs in dirt.
When I first stuck them in the mud, both were just wee twigs with nothing growing on them, covered with a plastic bottle to keep the moisture in. Just that, a little soil, and a little water — not even any root hormone. A month later, one had grown a little stem and some leaves. It looked kind of crowded in there, so I repotted and took the bottle-cover off.
Don’t do that.
Said leafy one was the one you see now on the left. Righty was a late bloomer that sprouted later. (Aparently, the air gets too dry if you expose the fledgling twig.) Where did these two twigs come from?
One crisp Saturday morning in early March, I helped City Fruit Master Gardener Tracey Bernal facilitate a pruning workshop in a heritage orchard in Mt. Baker. Excited City Fruit members who owned or aspired to own fig trees gathered around and watched Tracey demo cutting, then gingerly went about trimming the orchard for the homeowners, Margaret & Pat, who had generously loaned us the space in their backyard for the class. The two twigs in my house came from scraps on the ground after we trimmed this historic orchard. How did this beautiful orchard come to be?
City Fruit fig pruning workshop in Mount Baker, March 2017
When Margaret was a child, this neighborhood in Mt. Baker was majority Italian immigrants. One Bruno Bernardi planted the orchard. He would tend and harvest the fruit trees, distribute some fruit throughout the neighborhood, and sell the rest at Seattle’s Pike Place Market.
The timing is murky, but I like to imagine his produce stand at Pike Place may have looked something like this:
Produce Vendors at Pike Place Market, 1917
Flash (way) Back
According to Peggy Trowbridge Filippone, Spanish Franciscan missionaries brought the fig to southern California in 1520, leading to the variety known as the Mission fig.
Even farther back, the Ficus carica originates from Northern Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey, approximately) and was spread with the Greeks & Romans throughout the Mediterranean region. Just picture twenty-year-old Alexander the Great on horseback, chomping on a fig while on the road to Persepolis (in modern-day Iran), to conquer the known ancient world, some tired minion behind him toting a few little fig twigs.
What a humble start for a storied and and well-travelled fruit legacy.*
It’s August, and it’s the Great Seattle Fruit Harvest! Our urban environment is in full bloom, with ample green spaces for playing in, and plants that can nourish the city’s residents.
Among them, adult trees are heavy with figs, ripe for the picking. City Fruit and others are already working to collect and share this bounty. Meanwhile, my little twigs quietly stand tall, yearning imperceptibly for the year 2022, when they will grow large enough to join those trees in a cacophony of abundance, and share in a sweet little bite of history. Three cheers for fig twigs!
*entirely unverified description of Alexander the Great.
Learn more about and join us in the Great Seattle Fruit Harvest!
City Fruit Ambassador
Yiling was born and raised in the golden corn (and soybean) fields of Minnesota, the child of Chinese immigrants. Having tasted the sweetness of homegrown cherry tomatoes, she sprouted a love of digging in the dirt and related agrarian habits as a child. Love pulled her to the scenic landscapes of the Pacific Northwest in 2008, and she has been enjoying the long growing season ever since. Her decade of experience in Seattle include policy planning for King County, facilitating workshops to teach planning tools, supporting local social justice nonprofits, consulting for a food startup, and participating in her annual neighborhood block party. When she is not enthusiastically learning and sharing food-related stories, she can be found eating slowly, stand-up paddle boarding, and exploring. She is passionate about building a resilient, inclusive community and loves connecting us all in our shared human heritage. She is author of Food the Wong Way.com, a blog about adventure through food.