The Texas Fig Farmer

by Paula Bosse

Figs. Not a fan. Except in “newton” form. There were fig trees growing at the edge of my Dallas kindergarten, and I was always kind of disgusted by the “milk” that oozed out of them. I’m sure that experience at a tender age scarred me for life — I’ve never been tempted to dive into the world of products or recipes featuring that weird, sticky fruit. Despite that aversion, I found this fantastic photograph of a Texas fig farmer recently, and I’ve just emerged from a search for more photos of early-20th-century Texas fig-farming. (That’s a sentence that has probably never been uttered in human history.)

Here’s the great photo that started it all — taken in about 1910. I love the derby hat, the striped trousers, the sinewy arms, the wedding ring, the stance. His expression is an earnest one, and he seems proud to be photographed with his prized fig plant, its dirty roots dangling. (All images are larger when clicked.)

texas-fig-farmer_1910_high-shrink

The primo Texas fig-growing region of yore seems to have been in the Gulf Coast area, and most of these figgy photos were taken near Houston. The first one, from about 1909, shows a fig orchard in what was once (and may still be) a hot-bed for Texas figs, Alvin, Texas.

texas-fig-farmer_1909_alvin-tx_RPPCvia WorthPoint

Here’s another farmer, who’s written on this 1911 real-photo postcard, “Figs set out in March, picture taken in Sept.”

texas-fig-farmer_1911_rppcvia WorthPoint

And another real-photo postcard from Alvin, with part of the message reading, “hauling for the fig plant.”

texas-fig-farmers_wagon_rppc_ca1910_ebayvia eBay

Up close and colorized: a postcard emblazoned with a Magnolia fig tree (“The money maker of the Gulf Coast Country”).

texas-fig-tree_ebay

And not just figs, but … pigs! “‘Pigs is Pigs and ‘Figs is Figs.'”

texas-figs-pigs_ebayvia eBay

This looks a bit claustrophobic. And muddy. And vaguely sinister.

fig-farmers_houston-public-libraryvia the Houston Public Library

Figs as far as the eye can see.

texas-fig-orchard_1922_houston-public-libraryvia the Houston Public Library

Where do all those harvested figs go? They go to the fig plant. This one is in Aldine, Texas, near Houston. I bet every surface in that place was sticky.

texas-fig-plant_houston-public-libraryvia the Houston Public Library

Some enterprising folks thought direct-marketing was the way to get those “plump, delicious and tender” figs into the hungry maws of the consumer. “SEND ME THE FIGS!” (1930)

texas-figs_send-me-the-figs_1930_ebayvia eBay

Or one could just go to one’s local grocery and buy commercially prepared figs, such as these Mother Hubbard brand “fancy, skinless, fresh Texas figs in syrup.”

texas-figs_mother-hubbard_label

Once you had those jarred or canned figs in your possession, you had to do something with them. Luckily, there were specialized recipe booklets, like this one, published in 1929 by the Carpenter fig people. (Read the full booklet, recipes and all, here.)

carpenter-texas-figs_1929_msu

Ideas include Fig Parfait, Fig with Cereal (not much of a “recipe” there, really…), Fig Cream Cake, and the ominous-sounding Stuffed Fig Salad.

carpenter-texas-figs_illustrations_1929_msu

That’s a lot about a squishy, borderline disgusting food I don’t even like.

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Sources & Notes

Sources of images noted, if known.

Want some actual information about Texas figs? Check out the article “Figs, A Texas Heritage,” by Richard Ashton, here.

And you know you want to know about the history of Nabisco’s Fig Newton:

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Copyright © 2018 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

 

2 thoughts on “The Texas Fig Farmer

  1. I absolutely LOVE figs and am delighted to know a little history about growing figs. I have a tree that faithfully produced for years. It had a delicate pink and pale green fruit that I was told was called a Queen Anne fig. A few years ago some painters emptied a bucket of water filled with who knows what having to do with painting. They probably thought they were doing the tree a favor by watering it. It’s on it’s last legs now. It sprouted roots out on the edges, but the center of the tree died. I guess I’ll have it dug up and plant a new small tree. Very sad outcome for both of us.

    Liked by 1 person

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