December 2010

 Why grow figs?  If you have ever tasted a fresh ripe fig (and surprisingly few people have) you will know the answer.  I consider them to be one of the best fruits for fresh eating.  Unfortunately figs are soft, do not ripen off the tree and do not store (2-3 days under refrigeration)or ship well. This explains why few people outside of California or the Mediterranean have actually ever tried them, they are high-value fruits of limited demand.  Most of the less than 2% grown for fresh eating are sold regionally and rarely exported, the other 98% are canned, dried or made into a paste for fig newtons.  These products have very little semblance to the fresh fruit.

Figs are considered to be the oldest cultivated fruit crop going back well over 5,000 years. The fig is believed to be indigenous to western Asia and to have been distributed by man throughout the Mediterranean area. Remnants of figs have been found in excavations of sites traced to at least 5,000 B.C. There are about 800 varieties recorded and around 50-100 in the United States.  Below is a poster for sale by  which shows 126 varieties of figs.

126 varieties of Figs

With their history you would think more was known about them and that they were a simple crop.  Actually they have a fairly complex nature and relationships between varieties when compared to other fruits.  Some common fig varieties produce only one crop while others produce two crops. The first crop, called the breba crop is in the spring on last season’s growth. The second crop is borne in the fall on the new growth and is known as the main crop. In cold climates the breba crop is often destroyed by spring frosts. The next issue is some figs, Persistent (or Common) require no pollination, some Caducous (or Smyrna) do require pollination and some Intermediate Group (or San Pedro) do not need pollination to set a breba crop but do need it for the main crop (in some environments). To add to the confusion often the fruits are divided further by color, green and yellow figs and dark figs.  The last issue is that of synonyms or name confusion. An example would be the common Brown Turkey –which is also known as: Eastern Brown Turkey, English Brown Turkey, Everbearing, Texas Everbearing.

That pretty much is the tough part and really has very little bearing to most people who are not extreme hobbyists. The good news is that some types of figs can be grown in New Mexico.  Figs like a dry, warm temperature environment which also inhibits many of the diseases from wetter areas.  They also thrive on lots of sunshine which we have in abundance.  A poor quality soil is also considered good as it slows the ultimate tree size and concentrates sugars to the fruit.  A soil ph between 6 and 8 is acceptable. Figs can be grown in containers very well since they like root restriction.   Figs that are completely dormant before severely cold weather arrives can easily tolerate temperatures down to 15° F with little or no damage. Some varieties are hardier and can tolerate even lower temperatures. If the top is winter killed, the plant will probably come back from the base or underground parts.  Fruit production starts early with 2 year old plants often setting a crop.


In my last post I told of my “Perfect Find”, an almost new Atlas Juice-Master.  For experimenting with recipes and blends in small quantities this is the perfect unit for me.  Many of the more healthful “superfruits” fruits and berries are very small in size ranging from ¼” to ¾ “ diameter and don’t lend themselves well to traditional baking like apples.  Also many, while healthy do not have a sweet taste or fresh eating appeal.  Some, like many varieties of seaberry have a rather tart flavor and are best mixed with another juice to provide the needed sugar balance.  Aronia, goumi, goji and sea buckthorn can fall into this group along with the better known blueberry and raspberry.

Juice made from your fresh picked fruit also has the highest level of vitamins, amino acids, phyto-nutrients and bio flavonoids etc. By not exposing to the high heat of cooking you gain the most benefit from them by making into juice. Different fruits will give varying amounts of juice depending on the liquid percent available.  For example sweet grapes will give about 24 oz of juice per pound while that amount of juice will require 7 medium apples or approximately 2- 2.5 lbs. 

This weekend we experimented with raspberries and grapes.  The raspberries are too tart for most peoples taste alone but mixing at a 25%  ratio to 75% sweet grape  juice gives a great flavor combination.  We used fresh store bought grapes and frozen raspberries from the farm we had picked this fall. Any extra can be frozen for use at a later time.  As we experiment with more flavor combinations we will post here to let you know what works.

Every Christmas season the wife and I take a Saturday and go shopping on North 4th St to all the antique stores.  While generally we find something for someone on our list, we always find something we can’t live without for ourselves. This year was no exception as my eyes spotted the “Atlas Juice-Master”.  I almost dropped it when I picked it off the shelf.  Its small size less than 12″h and wide, gave no hint to its heavy 20 lb. weight.  I knew I had to have it and the price of $35.00 (minus 10% sale) seemed more than fair considering it looked in brand new condition.

Atlas Juice-Master

I took it to the counter and asked the clerk to plug it in so we could make sure it worked correctly. She plugged it in, flipped on the toggle switch and it made a quiet hum as it revved up to several thousand rpm. Satisfied it was in order, she flipped off the switch.  However the unit continued to spin.  After about 30 seconds we unplugged it, convinced it had a bad switch.  The strainer unit continued to spin even unplugged.  Then I understood.  This product was made back in the day of quality American manufacturing (built in Peoria, Illinois); it was perfectly balanced with frictionless bearings in the motor. After shutdown it will spin 4-5 minutes even loaded.

 It is a wonder of American engineering consisting of a few simple but well made parts. The cast aluminum base is made to look like faux stone and encased the motor and drive shaft. It has a stainless steel pan with a trough and spout that sits on the base and inside attach the stainless steel basket strainer and grinder plate.  The aluminum top is held on with 2 thumb screws and has a slot that you drop the fruit or vegetables into.  As they go into the unit they make contact with the grinder plate and are shredded to a very fine pulp. The pulp is then thrown against the screen wall of the strainer basket and the juice expelled thru the screen by centrifugal force.  The juice collects in the trough of the pan and spills out the spout into your waiting cup.

The Juice-Master disassembles for easy cleaning by removing a single threaded bolt.  Take out the strainer basket and grinder plate, rinse them off along with the catch pan, dry and put back together.That’s it and she’s ready to go again.  

Atlas Juice Master Parts

 A little research on the internet shows it was made in the late 60’s and was sold direct and through stores.  It came with a lifetime guarantee, for whatever that is worth now and I have no clue what happened to the company.  One drawback is some literature mentioned filters and I assume it came and you could buy replacement paper type filters.  If you want a perfectly clear, with no suspended solids juice, it will require straining or filtering of some sort. This is a home unit and therefor is not really the best for making large quantities of juice.  But if you want a quick cup or a quart it will do it fast and easy.

When you buy a product that is well made, does what it is supposed to do and is simple to operate it makes “the perfect find”. In this day of plastic when most items seem to be made to be disposable and from China who could ask for more?  I have dug a little on Ebay and found they are occasionally offered for auction. I recommend if you can find a good deal there to buy it.