Hawke's Bay: Te Mata's figs

By: Jil Malcolm, Photography by: Jil Malcolm


Te Mata's team discuss the history and inspiration of their award-winning figs

Murray Douglas and his partner Helen Walker were a high-powered team when they lived in Sydney. He was the CEO for The City of Sydney and Helen was the general manager for the NSW Compensation Commission.

 "Coming from Dunedin, we’d never tasted a fresh fig when we went to Sydney," Murray says. "But we lived in the Italian suburb of Leichhardt/Haberfield, where we were surrounded by backyard fig trees and fig stories. Once you eat a good fresh fig, you are hooked. And we were."

 By 2008, they’d had enough of the fast lane over the ditch and returned to their homeland to settle in Hawke’s Bay. With figs on their minds, they bought an old cherry orchard on Napier Road just out of Havelock North.

 As Murray researched, he became more and more fascinated with this ancient fruit. Figs are possibly the oldest fruit eaten by humans. Stone tablets from 2500 BC record their use as food. Some scholars think that Eve ate a fig, not an apple, and in all the major religions—Island, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism—figs are a symbol of fertility, peace, and prosperity. No wonder Murray was fascinated.

The peace and prosperity symbols seem to be working. The small shop in front of their processing factory announces Te Mata Figs without fanfare, and their orchard has grown from a handful to 1000 organically grown fig trees, comprising 29 different varieties.

Fruit is also brought in from a further 4000 trees grown on other properties in the district.

Although Te Mata Figs is known for the quality of its fresh figs, value-added products have become equally popular.

In 2012, Te Mata Fig Preserve won a cuisine award.

"That was encouraging," Murray says. "And we began to expand our repertoire."

The name is now inscribed across about 20 products, among them are preserves, relishes, bars, pandihigo (fig bread), drunken figs, and fig salami di fichi (fig and almond roll). Shortly, fig-leaf tea will be released in the market and the company will soon supply fig molasses to a Chinese outlet.

 "Figs are high in potassium, iron, fibre, and plant calcium," Murray says. "For maximum health benefits and taste, fresh figs should be plump, tender, and richly coloured. Eat them on the day you buy them or cover and refrigerate them for up to two days."

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