This morning, as I do many summer mornings, I went for a walk in the hills near my house. I did it for exercise, sure. But I also did it because I was hungry for a fig sandwich. Figs taste best when they’re still warm from the sun– with perfectly ripe red flesh and crunchy seeds. The only way to positively get figs that good is to forage them yourself (or pay a bloody fortune).
We in California are blessed with what’s known as a Mediterranean climate. Which has a great many advantages besides mild temperatures and year-round sunshine. One of the greatest pleasures in my life is the simple act of pulling a piece of soft purple fruit off a tree branch hanging over the walkways of the streets where I live. Of course “pulling” is not quite the right word. The best way to harvest a soft, ripe fig is to gently twist it off the branch. I’ve had practice, so I know.
I call this practice urban foraging. Today’s fig sandwich is a product of some of my foraging adventures.
It’s true that I talk about urban foraging on this blog a lot. I talk about sustainable seafood incessantly too I realize. That’s because these are two areas where I feel I can actually make a difference in this great big world. After all, a fig sandwich, no matter how delicious is still just a recipe. But the love and lore of figs is something else entirely.
Urban foraging (be it figs, or plums, or ramps) really connects you to your neighborhood. I’m not saying that I don’t get a few dirty looks every now and again. But I assure you, I never break the law. If I’m asked not to practice my hobby in a particular place by a particular homeowner, I will respect those wishes.
The kind of neighborhood connection I’m talking about is deeper. Most of the fig trees I visit in this neighborhood have been here far longer than I. Many have lived a life far longer than mine. These trees help me think about the changes in this part of Hollywood. From the Golden Age through the tough times. Hollywood has seen it all. I walk these streets and think about those who built these beautiful homes and planted these prolific trees. What were their expectations?
It’s no secret that Los Angeles had a large influx of second generation Italian-Americans who settled here from the east coast after World War Two. Perhaps they were fulfilling a dream. Surely they must have grown up hearing stories about the Mediterranean climate of the Italian countryside where their parents were born. They must have felt home here in some way. Planting a fig tree has that kind of cultural significance to me. There are certain plants that are iconic to Italian immigrants, and the fig is one of them.
So if you make this fig sandwich (whether with foraged figs or precious store-bought specimens) I hope you’ll savor every honey sweet bite and appreciate what the humble fig represents. GREG