Chester Lynn with a well-nourished fig tree. Photo by David Mickey

By Chester Lynn

This spring, as I was taking a scud around the island, I was looking over the Ocracoke fig trees that were sprouting. Some had the first crop of figs coming to celebrate spring and warm weather.

I happened to go by a house that I knew had an old pound fig tree in the side yard. It was small, but I remembered in years past it being full of wonderful very large figs. I don’t know how old it was, but l know it was over 65 years old and could be 85 years old.

When I looked, it was gone. It had been cut down all the way to the ground. Another old fig tree gone!

So many of the old Ocracoke figs trees are gone, and others are on the way out. We are losing the old Ocracoke figs — Pound figs, Sugar figs… These varieties have been on Ocracoke some 200 years, and now we are about to lose them.

There are some left, but not many now. When I was a boy, they were in every yard.

Now, the dingbatter (Celeste) fig is taking over. 

Don’t let us lose the old figs that are part of our fig heritage! Replant Pound figs, Sugar figs, and other old varieties that have been on Ocracoke so long.

The sea tides have washed these old trees, and they are tough and hardy and strong. They just need a little help and love.

Learn what fig trees you have in your yard here on Ocracoke. Fertilize them and take care of them.

At one time, fig trees were in every yard, and some old houses had several large fig trees in the yard. At fig-picking time you could smell the figs cooking. The fragrance was blowing in the wind.

Everywhere on the island, figs were picked. The ladies cooked and cooked and cooked…and had them ready for the fall and winter.

Homemade biscuits with fig preserves, or fig jelly, or a flaget of fig cake – this is our heritage!

Clear away the weeds, and fertilize your fig trees, or plant some in your yard.

Pound figs, Sugar figs, Brown Turkey figs, Lemon figs, Blue figs – these are the old varieties that have been on Ocracoke for hundreds of years. Don’t let us lose them!

Chester Lynn’s book on figs, “Figments of Ocracoke: An O’cocker Says a Word,” is available at the Ocracoke Preservation Society museum, 49 Water Plant Rd.

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  1. As a New Yorker who tries to get down to Ocracoke twice a year, I just loved reading this article and will definitely purchase a copy of Mr. Lynn’e book when I’m back again in the fall! I love fig trees and the fig preserves that I have been buying over the past few years (Ocracoke General Store) to take home with me, reminded me of the guava jelly we used to get when we were in Florida visiting my grandparents. I love the fig preserves as an accompaniment with pork and chicken dishes.

  2. Thank you Chester! That encouraging information is extremely impressive. I am out of state now but have loved the figs of North Carolina. I lived in the Piedmont for 36 years.As I worked on various projects I would eat the figs (before the birds got them) that would be at older homes in Durham. I did not know there were that many varieties, you have piqued my interest in researching them now. They are a heritage and a legacy and need to be protected. Best wishes..

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