The fig is the most revered and ancient of fruit trees – mentioned in the Bible, Koran and Torah. “They are a gift from God,” says one of my hosts.
I’m just back from Turkey, home of the Bursa Black Fig – one of the highlights in New Covent Garden Market at this time of year.
These fruits are second to none – top quality and good value. All are grown in a small area around Bursa, a city which is an hour and a half’s ferry journey across the bay from Istanbul.
Demand is booming for the fruit. Exports have more than doubled in the last decade to around 15,000-16,000 tonnes this year, with Britain as a key market.
They are even more popular in Turkey. On the day that I leave, we see a poster advertising a fig festival in nearby town, combined with bouts of traditional oil wrestling.
The Bursa region is stunning: a region of sun-soaked steep hills looking out onto the Sea of Marmara.
95% of black figs in Turkey are produced in this relatively small geographical area by a patchwork of small growers.
Around 40 villages focus on the crop; with around 10 of these producing 70-80% of total volume.
Alara is a key player: the largest fresh fig exporter in the world and the largest cherry exporter in Europe. They work with 188 contracted fig growers in the region.
(The Turkish cherry season runs from May to early August; figs from around mid-August to mid-October.)
Growing figs is a tricky business. “It’s really unbelievable biology – the synchronicity is marvellous,” explains Dr. Salih Çalı, an agricultural engineer and guide for my trip.
The fig tree produces multiple harvests of ripe fruit. So the growers have to pick the trees by hand at least half a dozen times per season. No pesticides and herbicides are used in the orchards.Read More