Yesterday we had to cut a branch off our vigorous fig tree, in order to lever up a thicker, straighter limb and carefully secure it to the old south facing wall of our house. The wind whips around this wall, chasing it’s tail, picking at sandstone, rubbing edges off the corners. It’s the perfect wall for the perfect tree. But it gets a lot of weather.

I reached deep within the tree’s leafy canopy to hold the branch steady; arms, face and neck became abraded by the huge rasping tongues of leaves on the autumn turn. Along with this branch there were other more supple, finer limbs that had shot up from the base, and as we trimmed and tied, the milky sap slowly began to ooze, and I was transported by the heady scent.

I’m not entirely sure when I became so completely taken by figs… the ‘why’ is almost impossible to explain in 140 characters, which is the reason I’ve resorted to writing this.

It’s ‘marmite’ for many I suspect… I often get a look of vague disbelief… which is smartly transformed into one of mild boredom if I over-prattle. So, best stop reading now if you’re not particularly enamoured with this strange fruit.

It’s not just the taste. If you’re lucky enough to live near a fig tree, or have one in your garden (or indeed, have a blissfully ignorant neighbour who’s fig tree has decided to rest an arm along your communal boundary) then you’ll have had the opportunity to watch it’s miraculous transformation… from a gnarled lifeless grey body, to one of handsome virility.

In Spring, from unseen creases in elephantine branches, the tree begins to push out little beaded fruit, at times so small, you may not even notice this small burgeoning army of acid green blisters. These gradually grow and become stemmed, much like the slow and tentative inflation of a Birthday balloon. As summer opens her arms to auspicious weather and longer days these little fruit continue to swell, peaking out from beneath a canopy of lobed leaves the size and spread of a hand, unfurled and waving.

And then, they ripen…

At this point I could go off grid and wallow thigh deep in The Fig Throughout Religious and Cultural History, you know… Adam and Eve etc. But whether we’re genetically pre-programmed to have this connection with the fig tree or not, I ‘know’ that Eve really should’ve ignored the serpent and headed back to that fig tree where she’d hastily gathered up her makeshift knickers. SURELY there would’ve been something infinitely more enticing than anything that snake (or indeed Adam!) had to offer. Had she looked a little closer, she might have seen branches laden with heavy, Rubenesque fruit, barely holding on, ready to fall into her outstretched hand.

The flavour and texture of a fig, when picked ripe is beyond the realms of what’s decent and proper to write. Thankfully, some one recently introduced me to D H Lawrence’s “Figs”, and here is a recording of his words. Brace yourself… you’d best be sitting down near an open window.

The best I can do is capture it on cartridge or canvas. This is an illustration I did, using egg tempera. A lengthy, involved and age old medium that requires an egg yolk, ground coloured powders, and a lot of patience. The resultant artwork has a lustre and depth that I find utterly beguiling. So it would seem an wholly appropriate medium to use when portraying something of such sumptuous beauty.

In terms of fig recipes, perhaps some of the best I’ve tried have come from the pen of Nigel Slater. Here’s a collection of some, recently featured in the Guardian.

Meanwhile, back to my tree, there are sadly a lot of hard green hand grenades that will never ripen, given our climate. So, I’m currently experimenting with ways of preserving these. I’ll let you know how I get on.