Ark of Taste
Ficus v. Marseille
This medium-sized, heirloom, greenish-yellow fig has been known for it’s fabulous flavor for hundreds of years. The Marseillaise was first described in France in 1700, however it appears to have been grown in the Mediterranean from a much earlier time. It was introduced to California and distributed by Felix Gillet of Barren Hill Nursery in Nevada City, California beginning in 1884. Between 1880 and 1907 Felix Gillet, a young Frenchman, realized that miners arriving in California in the wake of the Gold Rush would need fruit and nut trees to feed themselves. Gillet opened his nursery in 1871, in Nevada City, California, the epicenter of the Gold Rush, and began selling his favorite varieties- the Marseillaise was one of his imported varieties. In California, Felix Gillet propagated some of the best fruit and nut trees and established the foundations for the major agricultural industries of the Pacific Western states. In his 1880 Catalogue, Felix Gillet described this fig as “large, white; very good to dry.” This variety was in production throughout Europe but is scarce as of 2015, especially in the United States. The Felix Gillet Institute hypothesizes that there are other random trees planted on homesteads throughout Northern California, however their tree is the only specimen they currently have located.
The Marseillaise fig produces two crops per season, the first a light Breba crop in July and the heavy main crop ripening in September and October. The amber pulp has a unique strawberry flavor. Even people who don’t like figs have been known to love the Marseillaise. This is a very simple crop to cultivate, because, once established, figs grow happily on their own, with very little intervention. The mother tree does not require fertilizer, pest management, irrigation or pruning. Figs are particularly adapted to organic growing practices.
In the Felix Gillet Institute’s search for wonderful old figs in the Sierra, only this one healthy tree has been discovered. It is situated on an historic homestead in Camptonville, California. The Institute estimates it to be 110 plus years old, growing at 2800 feet elevation. Therefore, the Marseillaise fig is endangered, but potted young trees are available from the Felix Gillet Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to the discovery, preservation and propagation of heirloom fruits and nuts of the historic Western Sierra Nevada and California.