One of Beaufort County’s best summer treats in season

Published 6:48 pm Thursday, July 27, 2017

Tucked into backyards across Beaufort County is a bush whose fruit is the is the fodder for many traditional southern recipes — figs. And figs are in season.

It’s a combination of plenty of sun and mild winters that allow fig bushes to thrive in eastern North Carolina. But if a fig-lover wants fresh figs, he be better off planting his own fig bush, because fresh figs do not store well and have a shelf life of only a few days.

Fig bushes are easy to grow, according to the N.C. Cooperative Extension website. All they need is at least eight hours of sun a day and a constant supply of moisture. Though drought-tolerant, in times of extensive dry weather, they will drop fruit. The bushes require very little pruning, and not much by way of fertilizer in order to bear a lot of fruit come mid-summer.

There about 470 varieties of the common fig, but the most prevalent fig varieties found locally are “Celeste” and “Brown Turkey.” The “Celeste” bush yields small, purplish, sweet fruits the Clemson Cooperative Extension describes as “very good” for fresh use, and “excellent” for preserving. “Brown Turkey” fruit is less known for eating fresh off the tree, but is considered a favorite for canners.

The beauty of local fig trees, besides having the sweet fruit at one’s fingertips, is that they are also easy to propagate.

“If you find a fig bush whose fruit you like but you do not know its identity, the best thing to do is to ask the owner if you can take a cutting,” according to the cooperative extension website.

Six- to 8-inch cuttings can be taken either in winter or summer. Those taken in winter can be planted in sandy soil or potting soil, then placed outside in the shade. After placed in potting soil, cuttings taken in summer should be watered well. A plastic bag should be placed over the container to maintain high humidity and the container also placed in a shady spot. Cuttings should root in four to six weeks. Another way to propagate a fig bush in spring is to pull a lower branch down and partially bury several inches of the branch tip in the soil. By the following spring, the newly rooted branch will be ready to transplant elsewhere.

Once figs start to ripen, however, there might be competition when it comes to harvesting. Squirrels, birds, beetles, even the random opossum, have been known to go after the fruit as it begins to ripen on the branch, leaving hopeful fig eaters with an empty basket. Preventing local wildlife from stripping the bush of its crop can be challenging, but there a few suggestions. Covering the entire bush from top to the ground with bird netting can stop birds and squirrels from dining al fresco in the fig. The other option is to feed the wildlife. Neither birds nor squirrels like to work for their food, so placing birdfeeders a distance away from the tree, along with a shallow container full of dried corn for the squirrels. Keep both full while figs are in season to distract the fig-poachers from the bush.

ON THE TREE: A “Celeste” fig hangs ready for plucking in a Washington tree. The small, sweet, purplish figs are known for eating fresh off the tree and preserving.

If one is so fortunate to own a fig bush, or have friends or family willing to share the spoils, the following recipes are tried and true favorites, courtesy of the Daily News’ Pamlico Pantry archives.


‘Ocracoke Island Recipes’
For the Washington Daily News

“Ocracoke Island Recipes” is published by the Ocracoke United Methodist Women. The cookbook may be purchased by sending a check for $20 (includes shipping) to OUMW, P.O. Box 278, Ocracoke, NC 27960.

Pamlico Pantry features recipes from, and promotes the sales of, fundraising cookbooks published by area churches and nonprofit organizations. Enjoy!

Trudy Austin

1 pound fresh figs; 1/2 cup flour; sugar to taste; salt to taste; 2 eggs, beaten; 1/4 cup butter; 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice.

Cook figs until dry; cool. Add flour, sugar, salt, eggs, butter and lemon juice. Mix together. Put in a greased pan and bake at 325 degrees for about 45 minutes.

Note: Trudy says this is an old family recipe.


“Time for Tea” is published by Ephesus Free Will Baptist Church Ladies Auxiliary in Blounts Creek. The cookbook may be purchased at Terry’s Place in Chocowinity, with all proceeds benefiting the church.

Anne Crumpler

6 c. ripe figs, mashed; 5 c. sugar; 1 sm. pkg. strawberry Jell-O; 1 pkg. Sure-Jell.

Cook figs and sugar for 30 minutes on medium heat, then add strawberry Jell-O. Boil for about one minute. Add Sure-Jell and bring to a boil again, then boil for one minute more. Stir while it boils. Put in jars and seal.