September 6th – The Raddek House Fig Festival

Raddek House is an old collection of buildings, far older than the buildings which surround them and their walled gardens in Tallboy’s district. Whilst they have been well looked after over their many hundreds of years in existence, the old walls affect a ‘distressed’ air, with the stucco crumbling off the brickwork here and there, the wooden beams blackened by age. Under the terracotta tiles and their crusting of lichen the gable-end paintings of workers picking figs are still clear, though a little less vibrant than they once were. Nowadays it’s not workers who pick the figs, although the worker’s cooperative that run the House does nurture them.

Everyone knows that the best way to eat figs is raw, straight off the tree as soon as they ripen. There is nothing worse than a bland fig that has lost its taste by being too long from the tree. Everyone also knows that the best place to get the tastiest figs is Raddek House. It always has been and always will. Today fig connoisseurs from all across Buentoille will congregate in the walled gardens, where the eighteen fig trees grow, their boughs now laden with near-nectar-dripping fruit.

The exact timing of the harvest varies year on year, but because the garden is walled the temperatures can be controlled, and it is certain to occur in early September or occasionally very late August. The cooperative has experimented with glass houses in the past but found that these methods prioritised ‘quantity over quality’ and so stick to their traditional ways. Due to the variability in exact date, the House provides a notification service where runners are sent out with letters to the subscribers when harvest time is here. Occasionally, when the festival coincides with the days of the Revolution, the cooperative will pick the fruit themselves and bring it out into the streets, or to the palace or Traitor’s Square. Whilst this somewhat ruins the feel of the thing, it is considered far superior to letting the fruit over-ripen on the branches.

Whilst everyone knows the best way to eat a fig, fewer know how the House creates such delicious figs, and how it ensures that they will (mostly) ripen at the same time. The secret to the ripening is partly to do with controlling the conditions, as well as selective breeding of the fig trees over the many hundreds of years that the House has stood; back in the early days, when the Raddek family, originally immigrants from Catrosondia, first kept the garden, the harvest festival would have taken place over several days. The secret to the taste is to do not with the trees they use (although the fig cultivar they use is certainly part of the deliciousness, other fig farms who use similar cultivars do not have the same brilliant tastes to their wares), but instead with the particular types of wasp that they breed.

For those who are not quite as polished in their pomological knowledge as the Buentoillitants who today visit the gardens, all eating figs will have had a dead wasp inside them. This is because in order to be fertilised, wasps must crawl into the fig, where they either lay their eggs (in the case of the male fig), or are unable to do so and die of starvation (as in the case of the female fig). With female figs, those which are mainly produced and solely eaten, at the House today, the wasp carcass is digested via an enzymatic process into the body of the fig. In the case of the Raddek House figs, these wasps are what give the fruit its particularly delicious flavour, that of nectar sweetness and floral undertones (it is worth remembering that figs are an inverted flower).

There is a whole building in Raddek House dedicated to the breeding of these peculiar varieties of wasp, in intricacies of which are a tightly guarded secret. Most of the work of the cooperative actually centres around this process, rather than the keeping of the trees, and as such the workers are most likely seen in bee-keeping suits. At various times of the year according to their arcane schedule, these wasps are funnelled into large glass vessels and then released into specific segments of the trees, kept from escaping or pollinating those fruit reserved for other wasp varieties by large mosquito nets which are cast over the trees in odd configurations.

Today there will be no wasps or nets in sight, only the long green benches placed in the centre of the garden; the trees line the walls; laid out with little chopping boards and small paring knives, to reveal the sensual red innards of the fruit before consumption. There are stepladders available to reach the higher fruit, although the trees are trained in such a way that this should not be necessary for a tall person. On the trees are placed small labels with tasting notes, explaining what kind of wasp and cultivar was used on each branch. The revellers will cut a fig from the tree, take it back to the table, cut it open and then savour the scent of the succulent flesh for a long moment, before biting in and chewing slowly.

By each plate is placed a small wide-brimmed cone-shaped glass, which will be periodically filled to the brim with fig wine (made from the figs which do not ripen fully but are too large to be left for the following year’s harvest – the figs proper are too good to be wasted on wine making) for those who want it. The glasses are made so full that they bulge over the rim with the surface tension, just as the fruit bulge with ripeness, meaning that the revellers must first dip their heads to drink from them, an accidental motion of respect.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Aching Bones
  • The Festival of Such a Trifle
  • Careless Serville’s Day