I should have known better than to ask Tom Chino, in an email earlier this week, whether if I planted a fig--specifically a fig that came from his farm that was withering in my refrigerator--in a pot of soil, if I'd get a fig tree.
Being friends with Japanese people should come with an instruction booklet. There are a lot of customs, and therefor a lot of possibilities for a gaigin like myself to mess up. Over the 10 years that I've known the Chinos, I have learned a thing or two about how things work. Very high on the list, in Tom's words: "If you ask us for something, we are required to say 'yes.'" But anyone who knows the family well enough to have landed themselves inside the vortex of their famous generosity knows that it's not just if you ask for something. So much as ask about something and you're doomed. Doomed for good things, but still, your fate is settled.
Tom emailed me right back, saying that if I planted what he called "the fruit of the strawberry fig,"" I would be "very lucky to get a plant." And then, the dreaded, beloved... "If you'd like a plant... "
In fact, I'd love a plant. The Chinos grow a variety called the "strawberry fig." I have a suspicion that's not the scientific name, but they're called that because the insides are ruby red, like strawberries (or at least like good strawberries). They're tender and delicious and almost jammy, and they have more sweet fig flavor than any other fig I've ever tasted. In San Diego, chefs covet them. Trey Foshee, chef at George's at the Cove, in La Jolla and a loyal customer of Chinos, serves (or at least he did), an appetizer of Chino strawberry figs, which he halves, drizzles with 100-year-old balsamic vinegar, and tops with goat cheese and Chino arugula sprouts. I thought about asking him for the recipe, but that description is the recipe. Here is a picture, which should help you achieve the sublime results. (I stole it off the web.)
Nevertheless, when I asked about growing my own tree, I was really just trying to be resourceful. To, try my hand at... farming. I'm not saying it's a bad thing, Tom hinting about offering that tree. And in any event, I have no choice, since Tom's next email said this: "We'll put the wheels in motion to prepare your tree."
I won't get a lot of pity when I say that to be the recipient of this kind of kindness has its difficulties, any more than someone with a trust fund gets any sympathy for the woes of Having Money. But seriously. Not only am I forever (and ever and ever and ever...) in their debt. But every act of kindness toward me makes me question my own worthiness. As I write to them on the too seldom occasion that I get around to sending a thank you note: "I couldn't possibly have done anything to deserve it, but I do appreciate it." That's about all I can do. That and love the fig that falls from their tree. Hopefully that's enough.