The fig harvest comes around twice a year in Castile. The first crop (using energy reserves built up the previous year) comes in late May, early June. In Spanish these first fruits are called brevas, while the second fruit is an higo. In English, the fruit is always referred to as a fig, whether it comes from the first, second, third or fourth wave of fruits (believe or not some varieties of fig trees grown under the right conditions can fruit up to four times in a year), although the first harvest is called the “breba crop”.
I have never come across a fig tree in fruit in Ireland, it being a species that likes a dry soil, heat and sunshine. Of course like every Irish child I was practically raised on Jacob’s Fig Rolls, but I didn’t see a fresh fig until well into my twenties. In contrast, my daughters are seasoned fig pickers (and eaters). Fig trees are an easy climb and the ripe fruit (softer and more yellow than the unripe fruit) comes away with the slightest of tugs.
The only thing to watch out for when picking figs is the sap from the branches and leaves: it is highly irritant. The wearing of a long-sleeved shirt and gloves is recommended. I never want a repeat of the burning, itching sensation I experienced during my first session up a fig tree, when I ignorantly ventured into its branches in a T-shirt.
A fair-sized, twenty-year-old tree would probably yield a couple of pounds of fruit per day over the month of September. Unless you have a ready-made army of figaholics (or have figured out how to make your own fig rolls) most of these will go towards jam-making. There are people who swear by deep-freezing their surplus figs, but I think it is a more efficient use of space and energy to get those higos into jars ASAP! Figs can also be dried. A traditional Castilian delicacy based on dried figs stuffed with nuts is called turrón de pobre.