Since I moved to Chapel Hill, fig ice cream has become less and less a reality. Fig trees will survive the winters here but are often frozen back to the ground. The drought of three summers running has done more damage. My two-year-old fig tree set fruit this year, but by August the figs were dried on the vine.
Nancy Tolley shares her figs with me for the picking. Her two trees were planted by the Tottens about sixty years ago. Dr. Totten was a renowned horticulturist and botanist, and the figs were among the first plants he and his wife Annie set out on the property, putting them in even before construction on the house began. Nancy has well water to maintain the garden, but the drought was so severe this year that she had to resort to “strategic watering.” The strategy didn’t include watering the fig tree.
When we first moved to Chapel Hill, farmers would bring paper trays full of luscious little brown figs to Fowler’s Food Store in late August and September. That was when a good number of Chapel Hill ladies in white gloves shopped with their maids. Clearly, I was too new to town and too obviously a college student to participate in this ritual. However, I took the figs within reach and went blind as a mule to the checkout line.