Breva/Breve

Over time, I’ve come up with my own names for the shops we patronise in the neighborhood, mainly because if I call them by their actual names, M has no clue which place I’m talking about.

Thus, our main frutería has become my fruit lady. One bakery is foccacia guy, the other is Roman guy. Our back-up frutería is frutería near foccacia guy (sometimes also known as frutería near Lidl). Even though the store selling products from Latin America was sold to someone new and now also carries products from all over the world (harissa, udon noodles, lime pickle, mirin), I still call it Latino Grocery.

Yesterday about 6:00, which is afternoon for the Spanish and night for me, I ran downstairs and around the corner to the frutería near foccacia guy for some green onions.

The way it works at the frutería is that you stand just inside the door and tell the proprietor what you want, item by item. You. do. not. touch. the. produce. While I was waiting, I noticed a display of the plumpest, most gorgeous figs just inside the door. If figs were an art form, they’d look like these did: curvaceous, a purple so lustrous it was almost black, the heft and look of them whispering summer.

Surely it’s too early for figs, I thought.

How are they? I asked him.

Very good, he said (of course he did, what else would he say?). Though he didn’t refer to them as higos, the usual word for figs, but as brevas.

Maybe they weren’t actually figs at all but something else unique to Spain that looked exactly like figs and ripened for picking only at the end of winter? Whatever they were, whatever they were called, I couldn’t resist them. I brought home six, nestled carefully into a wax baggie.

This morning we ate them all, sliced thin, laid on fruit and nut bread slathered with cream cheese and drizzled with rosemary honey.


I was a person who believed figs were downright disgusting until I planted a fig tree at our house in Atlanta in my forties. Since, figs have figured (yes, I know I did that) in my writing a lot. Here, and here, for example.

Breva.

Breve means brief. Maybe breva did, too? As I ate, I mulled things over.

At some point in my 15 year-long stewardship of that fig tree half a world away, I learned figs have two crops, the breba and the main one. The breba crop consists of figs that grow on last years’ wood, early in the spring; the main crop comes later, in July to September. In Atlanta, that first crop was usually nipped by frost and never made it to fruition.

Breba— breva —breve — brief.

Lo and behold, when I looked it up, I found this:

breba (or more commonly breva in Spanish, and sometimes as taqsh)[1] is a fig that develops on a common fig tree in the spring on the previous year’s shoot growth.[2] In contrast, the main fig crop develops on the current year’s shoot growth and ripens in late summer or fall. Breba figs of certain varieties don’t always develop the rich flavor that the main crop has. Growers of those varieties frequently discard the brebas before they ripen to encourage growth of the main crop because the main crop is generally superior in both quantity and quality to the breba crop. Other cultivars such as Black Mission, Croisic, and Ventura produce good breba crops.

In some cold climates the breba crop is often destroyed by spring frosts.[2] However, in other areas, the summer may be too cool for the main crop to set so the breba crop is the only crop that will ripen.

Hang on to the spring, for it is fleeting.

2 thoughts on “Breva/Breve

  1. This is a lovely post Katherine. And the figs sound delicious! I’ve never seen them over here (and now I plan to look for them!). We could use a little bit of spring right now, for sure!

    1. Let me know if you find them, and if they have a different name than summer figs in Italian!

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