The Human Chipmunk Prepares for Winter

moss st marketIt was the middle of August when the nagging tendrils of panic began to set in, triggered by the hint of a fall chill in the air.  The summer markets were still brimming with fresh peaches, berries, and plums, but memories of years past told me that wouldn’t be the case forever and I needed to plan for the fresh fruit famine ahead. I remembered picking 10 pounds of blackberries the year before – I had smugly tucked them into the freezer “to get us through the long winter ahead”. I was shocked to discover we were on our last smoothie-full by late October and begrudgingly forked over the $8 per pound prices for over-packaged, imported, frozen berry mix.

Now, at this point it might be necessary to explain why I place such high importance on fruit. Through the summer months my diet is about 40% fruit, and through the winter I try to get about 25%. My dietary reasoning for eating fruit (beyond saying it’s nutritionally complete, hydrating, delicious, and deeply satisfying,) will need to wait for another post. But suffice it to say, when you drink a smoothie 350 days a year, Bananas can get a little boring as the main ingredient – so local fruit is the way to keep it interesting, tasty, environmentally conscious, and nutritionally dense.

So, back to my end of summer anxiety attack. I had learned from experience that there were two things I needed to do to prepare for the winter 1) get a deep freeze so I wouldn’t be restricted in the amount of fruit I could store 2) seek out fresh, ripe, local fruit in bulk.  Step one was accomplished quickly thanks to a website I’ve come to rely on: (furniture, car, the dog, and even my wedding dress have all been sourced from there). Step two was more of a comedy sketch. My fiancé and I had been disappointed the year before when we visited a local farm to get apples and found out we’d missed fig season. Yes, figs grow in Victoria – who knew? I’d only ever encountered dried figs in packages (tasty) and shriveled purple things from California sold for $1 per piece (I didn’t ever buy those). These local figs from Victoria showed up at a potluck I attended one August afternoon and I fell instantly in love: bright green on the outside, fleshy sea-creature-like tentacles on the inside, sweet and exciting flavour. This year I knew what I wanted to start filling my newly acquired deep freeze with, and I went searching for a source.  We found a man in Saanich who grows these succulent globes en masse in his jungle of a backyard. When we arrived he explained that humans are not the only ones who like figs. He can’t leave his house during daylight hours during the two to three weeks when the figs come ripe because flocks of starlings will descend as a swarm upon the trees and decimate this harvest in minutes. We learned several interesting things that day: first, figs do not ripen once picked, they only rot, so it’s important to pick them ripe and eat them quick (or freeze them), second, check for wasps before popping a freshly-picked fig in your mouth (this tip came from his personal experience – ouch!), and last, search for the figs on the tree that appear to be falling apart (bursting at the seams , oozing with nectar) because though they look like they’ve seen better days, these are figs at their prime and produce a sensation on the tongue that rivals an orgasm (OK, that’s a bit dramatic, but you’ve got to try it to see what I’m talking about… eating a fig that is).

Ripe Green FigWe ordered enough figs to last us for a week and told him we would chat about how many more we wanted. That week we got a lead on two local fig suppliers that charged significantly less money so we left messages asking about availability for $150 worth. One place called to say that they needed to see if they had that many on the trees. The other (farmer Dan) told us it was the largest request they had ever had, and it would take a few hours to pick them, but that they were happy to help us out so we placed the order. The same day that farmer Dan was out climbing a ladder picking our figs my fiancé got a call from the other supplier saying that they were on their way down to Victoria with a trunk-full of figs for us (figs we had never confirmed that we were buying! It was merely an inquiry, not an order. Oops on their part!). Since we do love our figs, and didn’t want to leave them with a trunk full of slowly rotting figs, we decided to say “what the heck!” and bought them all. And that is the story of how we came to find ourselves with 450 figs in our deep freeze! Yes, you can bet we’ll be bringing our friends “figgy pudding” (whatever that is) this holiday season! And, the chipmunk in me is secretly deeply satisfied at the stockpile of figs that will surely last us until spring.

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