This little fig is just figgin’ fabulous! Known as Ronde de Bordeaux, one could take for granted that it is from France. However, the story behind this fig variety is a bit of a mystery…but who doesn’t like a bit of mystery, especially where figs are involved.
When this baby fig variety crossed our path recently, I recalled working with it a few years ago, in February 2010 to be exact.
We had the privilege of being involved with processing the sub-standard figs in South Africa. Included in the fig varieties were Ronde de Bordeaux. We had several projects running parallel for processing the figs to different products. However, the project related to this variety was my favourite. With an average weight of about 20 grams, the fig is bite-size and makes for a perfect on-the-go health snack. For this reason, it made perfect sense to freeze-dry the baby figs, which preserved the fruit and maintained the nutrients without compromising the beautiful purple coloured skin and rosy flesh.
The only freeze-drying facility that would accommodate us at the time was based in Graaff-Reinet, which is about 8 hours drive from Cape Town. So we decided to do a little road trip. We love road trips, especially when it’s a Route 62 road trip.
Graaff-Reinet is a magnificent town situated in the Eastern Cape Province. It is the fourth oldest town in South Africa, after Cape Town, Stellenbosch and Swellendam. Probably best known for The Dutch Reformed Church in the centre of town which is a National Monument. Rumour has it that it is the only known church in South Africa, and possibly in the world, to have a kitchen and a chimney.
After surviving a tyre burst and an impatient toddler we arrived safe and sound. To unwind we took a walk through the Obesa Cactus Nursery, which was located just across the guest house where we were staying. Nurseries, and Botanical Gardens for that matter, always seem to relax us, it is like a shrine for all the plants of that region and the admiration of it all, swamps everything else.
The next morning we started the freeze-drying trials. After a successful day, we visited one of our favourite towns in South Africa, Nieu-Bethesda. This little town is best known, if not only known, for Helen Martins’ Owl House. Her artwork always leaves me with a sense of calm and wonder. Walking through her concrete-filled garden I tend to find myself entering a dream-like state that transcends time…definitely worth a visit. If you would like to read more about this timeless works of art please follow the link.
So what do we know about this baby?
The origin of Ronde de Bordeaux is not exactly clear. What we do know is that it is either from France or Spain…both countries are captivating, with good climates to commercially produce this variety in future. That´s what we’ll be focusing on.
The fruit is small and distinctly round, from there its name Ronde de Bordeaux meaning Round (little fig in this case) from Bordeaux.
The dark purple skin is soft and needs no peeling. This is very convenient as you can hold the fig by its maroon coloured stem and comfortably eat it. It is firmer than standard fig varieties which add to the no-mess-no-fuss eating. The flesh is dense and packed with full flavour sweetness and a very distinct fig flavour. If you have fond memories of eating figs way back when, this variety will have you reminiscing with every bite.
The flesh is deep pink at the centre and fades toward the skin. The weight varies between 15-25 grams depending on where it’s grown. Almost never exceeding a weight of 30 grams.
This baby fig variety performs well in humid conditions and can withstand rainy condition quite well. Another remarkable characteristic of the variety is its tolerance for cold climates. There are fruit gardeners growing trees as far north as Sweden. They grow the trees in pots, which they take inside during the winter.
When and where can we expect to get hold of these babies?
Currently, there are 23 hectares in South Africa producing Ronde de Bordeaux commercially. As far as we know South Africa is the only country that commercially produces this variety. Although there is a hectare in France that export to the UK certain seasons. Actually, a few days before publishing this post we got the news that Ronde de Bordeaux figs from France will be available in selected Marks & Spencer stores in the UK now.
Ronde de Bordeaux will be available from mid-January next year in Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, Tescos and Booths in the UK. Figs will also be available in selected Edeka stores in Germany and selected Woolworths stores in South Africa during the same time.
In Ethiopia, there are 4 hectares which should produce commercially in 2016 probably for export to the UK.
So, if all goes according to plan these babies should soon be available more often.
All ‘n all we just love this fig variety. It’s an easy and nutritious snack, tastes deliciously figgy and has an excellent shelf life, up to 10 days when refrigerated.
Woo-hoo! Go baby Bordeaux!
Big shout out to Keith Wilson! Also known as the Figman, who was so kind as to share his knowledge of figs with us. Much appreciated Keith.