San Antonio Ideal for Growing Figs

Fine Figs Grow Well in San Antonio

by Celia Hayes

For the last month we have been having a harvest season. Not of our own garden bounty, although the tomato plants produce generously enough that we can have fresh tomatoes in a salad every other night or so; rather, we have been harvesting figs. They are ripe just now in our San Antonio neighborhood, where two of our neighbors have bearing fig trees and have given us permission to pick.

The trouble with bearing fruit trees is that very soon, the owners of it get sick and tired of the output, so cheerfully welcome anyone who will come and take some of it away. I know this: I have been there, in Utah, where my rented house had fifteen bearing apricot trees in the back yard. Eventually couldn’t even stand the smell of them. It was the same growing up in California, where everyone had orange and lemon trees in their back yard. (Buy oranges and lemons at the supermarket? What strange planet did you come from, anyway? ) But back to the fig trees; every couple of days we have visited, and come away with five or six pounds each time. No wonder they are so expensive – fresh figs are incredibly delicate, bruising easily and going bad in the space of three days. But fresh from the tree, and with different means of preserving at our command, this is not just opportunity knocking; this is opportunity coming through the front door, taking off it’s shoes and making itself at home.

We are turning the resulting bounty into a variety of figgy treats: dried figs, of course, fig jam, fresh fig wine, and whole preserved figs. I am experimenting with two basic recipes for them. The first is from The Gift of Southern Cooking, and basically calls for at least two pounds of fresh figs (anything other than the black Black Mission variety) to be sprinkled with a couple of pounds of baking soda and soaked in boiling water for five minutes. This is supposed to toughen the skins a little. Drain and rinse the figs in fresh water, then put them into a container which can be sealed, and sprinkle with as many cups of sugar as there are pounds of figs. Let them steep in the sugar for at least twelve hours, until the juice from the figs has begun to liquefy the sugar. Put the figs and sugar into a non-reactive pan and simmer for ten minutes. Back into the container, steeping for another two days; back into pan to simmer another ten minutes. Repeat this twice more, and at the end of the third cycle, remove the figs with a slotted spoon and pack into three sterilized pint canning jars. Strain the syrup, and simmer until it reaches °220 degrees, pour over the figs, and process in boiling water for fifteen minutes. The canned figs are thus to be aged a month before being eaten.

The other recipe is from John Besh’s My New Orleans: The Cookbook. It’s even simpler yet: a pound of sugar per pound of figs, the whole to sit at room temperature until the juice from the figs soaks the sugar, then simmer together until the syrup coats the back of the spoon, and process as per usual. This was his grandfather’s favorite recipe, and his grandfather took making his fig preserves very, very seriously; kind of charming to consider. It will be another month, though, until we can taste-test the results of these recipes and see which of the two is the best.

Figs were probably brought to Texas from the Mediterranean by the Spaniards. Figs grow extremely well anywhere in Texas, with a long growing season and proper care. San Antonio is even fortunate enough to have a home grown variety of figs at Fanick’s Nursery. Grandpa Fanick patented a fig tree some 50-60 years ago and named the fig, Texas Blue Giant. The Blue Giant produces extra large figs with purple skin and amber pulp. It is so good fresh or dried. You can buy grandpa’s fig tree or many other varieties of figs from Fanick’s Nursery to include, Brown Turkey, Texas Everbearing, Black Mission, Texas A&M Alma, Celeste, Kadota and others. Fanick’s is another San Antonio hidden away secret, but to those of us that frequent, appreciate their friendly nursery knowledge and helpfulness. Fanick’s Garden Center is located at 1025 Holmgreen Rd on tht east side of San Antonio.


Clay Pottery

Paint Your Own Clay Pottery

by Celia Hayes

In our never-ending search for interesting things to write about in, and around San Antonio, serendipity took a hand last week. We were actually heading for WingStop in Embassy Oaks for our monthly Red Hat gathering, but we were early. With some time to kill, we wandered into the nearby Clay Casa, a paint-it-yourself pottery studio – just to see what was on hand. I understand that the popularity of this as a hobby has never really gone out of style; in Victorian times it was called china painting, and was considered a suitable hobby for genteel young ladies, the kind of thing taught in finishing schools. From there, the urge to ornament pottery and china segued into the hands of professional artists and skilled amateurs in the Arts and Crafts movement – to art potteries like Rookwood, Van Briggle, Newcomb, Grueby, Rosewood and the rest. Vases, tiles and plates from these studios often show up on the Antiques Road Show and command quite astonishing prices.

Currently it seems that the china-painting hobby – like a great many other home-making hobbies – has come around again. I usually blame Martha Stewart for a lot of this busy-little-hands-at home stuff, but I do have to admit that in the right hands, and given a simple design and a degree of skill, the results can be quite pleasing. The Martha’s designs for dot-painted pottery are really quite attractive on their own, although I don’t think they could come anywhere near to redeeming the Clay Casa pottery blank that represented a box of fast-food fries. Not even Martha herself could do much with that.

But the Clay Casa isn’t just set up for single ambitious artists to work alone on their project; their focus is on group events for friends and congenial strangers: Sundays are a family fun day, and during the weeks of summer, they have an art project summer day camp for kids, regular classes in mosaic and fused glass, Girl Scouts can earn a patch … and Clay Casa can even host kid’s birthday parties. (There are actually a number of DIY art studios in San Antonio offering these kinds of activities, especially for kids. When my daughter was in high school, she used to work for a place called ArtWorks, in Carousel Court, in Alamo Heights. If it is still the same enterprise, they have two outlets now.)

We hung around for about half an hour, talking to the duty staff, and admiring some of the finished projects. Some of them, especially the fused-glass projects were quite beautiful, and reminded us of Howard Redmond’s glass bowls and ornaments … or at least, a fair start on the way to creating something along the lines of what he does, professionally. The work areas were large, well-lit and welcoming to customers and aspiring artists. When and if I can ever tear myself away from a hot computer, I might just come back and try my hand at pottery-painting. That dot-painted china from Martha Stewart did look very nice, and I am certain that I could do something like it, in white and blue.

Texas a Leader in Job Creation

In Case You Missed It: Business Facilities Magazine Names Texas Best Business Climate in the Nation; U.S. Chamber of Commerce Names Texas a Leader in Job Creation

Monday, July 23, 2012  •  Austin, Texas  •  Press Release

Office of the Governor Rick Perry

Texas’ strong jobs climate and economic pillars continue to receive national recognition, most recently from Business Facilities magazine, which has ranked Texas’s business climate best in the nation, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce-National Chamber Foundation, whose Enterprising States study named Texas a leader in job growth and one of the states most likely to grow.

“These rankings echo what employers from across the country and around the world have long known – that Texas’ strong jobs climate allows them to grow and prosper thanks to our low taxes, predictable regulations, fair courts and skilled workforce,” Gov. Perry said. “Our commitment to these priorities has helped make Texas the best place to live, work, raise a family and start a business, and will continue creating opportunity for families in the Lone Star State.”

Business Facilities magazine credited Texas’ strong workforce, diverse economy and economic priorities with the state’s success. The magazine ranked each state’s education climate, workforce training/availability, cost of labor, infrastructure, utility costs, credit rating and business tax climate, giving extra credit to states that have business-friendly policies and incentives. Texas previously received Business Facilities’ top ranking in 2009 and 2010.

In the third edition of its Enterprising States study, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce-National Chamber Foundation named Texas a leader in job growth, exports and entrepreneurship, and noted it is one of few states that showed more than eight percent job growth over the past decade. The study touts Texas’ exports, entrepreneurial activity, higher education efficiency and low cost of living as factors in the state’s economic success. The study also credits Texas’ economic development incentive funds, loser pays legislation and workforce development initiatives with strengthening the state’s economy.

The Lone Star State’s economy continues to receive national recognition. CNBC has named Texas the 2012 Top State for Business, and CEO Magazine recently named Texas the Best State for Business for the eighth year in a row. The Wall Street Journal has credited the state’s low taxes and employer-friendly environment with helping make Texas the job creation capital of the nation. Texas is also the nation’s leading exporting state for the tenth year in a row, and consistently ranks among the top states with the most Fortune 500 headquarters.

For more information about Business Facilities’ study, please visit:

To view the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s full Enterprising States study, please visit:


Home Protection

5 Benefits of Using a Gun to Protect Your Home

 By Ryan Avila

The same as you always carry a spare tire, or keep a fire extinguisher in your kitchen, a self-defense firearm should be part of your home standard equipment. If you know how, and when, to use the gun then you will have substantial benefits when it is needed. As part of your preparation it is vitally important that you know and understand the Texas laws pertaining to self-defense and the home.

As of 2007, Texas passed a “castle doctrine” law which allows homeowners to use deadly force against illegal intruders without the necessity of retreating. However, like many laws, there are important aspects to it that can trip you up and cause significant legal problems if you are not aware of them. For example, you cannot shoot at a fleeing criminal except under highly unusual conditions, and you still have to state that you had a reasonable fear for your life.

A firearm should be part of a “layered defense.” This means that your first layer is arranging your outside lighting and landscaping to prevent hiding spots for potential intruders. An alarm system is a great secondary layer for keeping out the casual opportunist who is looking for an easy score. The alarm company sign out front encourages them to move along to another, less-protected home. The alarm system also protects your home when you are away. Alarm system passwords should be treated as if they were the keys to your home, because in many ways they fulfill the same function.

#1- A gun is instantaneous

Experienced burglars know that they can often get into a home and out again before the police can respond to an alarm. However, when they are facing down the barrel of a gun they know that instantly vacating the home or yard is a very good idea. A gun in the hand of an experienced person commands total respect from most home invaders. It is important, though, that you as the homeowner know that you can pull the trigger if necessary. If you communicate to the invader (through words or nervous actions) that you would be scared to ever pull the trigger, it turns the advantage back around to them. Practice builds confidence, but you still have to find it within yourself to know what to do when the time comes for hard decisions.

#2-A gun is the most effective way to stop a person

According to sociologist Dr. Gary Kleck, guns are more effective in stopping crimes than knives, other tools, non-violent resistance, reasoning with the attacker, or calling for help. They don’t want to get shot under any circumstances, and most know that risking death is not in their best interest. However, most gunshots, especially with a handgun, are not instantaneously incapacitating, and guns are not magic wands able to do miracles. A single shot to the arm may only enrage the intruder. Being able to keep multiple bullets on target and hitting the intruder in vital areas such as the center chest region is an important part of practical self-defense with a gun. You have to do your job properly for the gun to do its job.

#3- Guns are light, mobile, and can be used by almost anyone

Handguns are easy to carry with one hand, leaving the other free for protection. It’s easier to maneuver around a home and yard with a handgun than a rifle or shotgun, both of which can get heavy for a smaller person to carry for long periods. Even the smallest, frailest person can shoot a .22 handgun without fearing recoil, and more robust shooters can move up the caliber and power scale to find something comfortable for them. If you prefer to use a shotgun but are concerned about the recoil, a 20 gauge shotgun gives almost all the power of a 12 gauge but with much less recoil.

#4-Training is easily available for those who wish to learn guns

It doesn’t take a firefighter to use a fire extinguisher or an auto mechanic to change a flat tire, and it doesn’t take a highly trained specialist to use a firearm for self-defense. Most modern guns are “point and click,” with only one or two easily remembered controls. An hour at the shooting range will teach most people almost all of what they need to know about shooting a gun. The NRA sponsors training classes which are available through most gun shops, and there are many independent schools offering advanced training if you want it. If you can gather together enough friends who also want training it may be possible to bring an instructor in for a special class.

#5- Guns can be tailored to a variety of situations.

Homes come in a wide variety, and there are home self-defense guns to meet each style. Apartment dwellers may be better off with a medium powered handgun with frangible ammunition, or that which breaks apart when it hits a wall. A rural homeowner facing invading coyotes, or situations where law enforcement takes an hour or more to get there, may want to go with a larger “reach out and touch” rifle for longer distances. No matter where you live or the home style, there is a firearm that will do the job of protecting your family from harm.

Guest Blog Contributor Ryan Avila. When not working on home projects, Ryan is a content writer for Your Local Security.

*Cowboy Aiming Gun photographer: Jeanne Hatch

Back Ways to New Braunfels

The Town That Was – And the Hardware Store That Is

by Celia Hayes

Lately, we’ve taken to getting to New Braunfels by following Nacogdoches road all the way up to where it intersects with FM 482. Just around that intersection we have been intrigued by a range of old buildings – two of them side by side, weathered gray boards, with a false front and a veranda across the front, looking like something on the set of a Western movie. Around the bend in Old Nacogdoches Road, there is an industrial-looking building of yellow buff brick with a tall chimney. The fourth building – the only one still whole and in use is a little way down FM 842 – a charming and totally random brick church; the Catholic Church of St. Joseph. From the evidence of the storefronts, the chimney and the church it seems that there was something there, once.

Last Saturday, when we came up to the corner, there was a middle-aged couple and a teenaged boy chopping the brush in front of the old buildings. It was too good an opportunity to pass up. We parked the car, got out and introduced ourselves, and asked – what was this place? They explained – yes, this was a little crossroads hamlet called Comal. FM 482 was one of the main roads between San Antonio and New Braunfels back in the day … about 1915. The largest building was the feed and hardware stores, the two smaller were the general mercantile and a blacksmith – who turned eventually to being a gas station. The brick building? A cotton gin. The farmers around here all raised cotton; the hardware store and the mercantile were where they gathered at the end of the day to visit with friends. Hard to credit this as cotton country, but it was: Cotton thrived around here – right up until the 1920s, when the boll weevil demolished that crop.

On to New Braunfels, the town that is the home of two local enterprises who have set longevity records; Naegelin’s Bakery is the longest-established, continuously operating bakery in Texas, and from personal experience, the apple strudel and the iced molasses cookies are to die for. The other enterprise, older than Naegelin’s by a decade, is a hardware store: Henne Hardware which is housed in a splendid late Victorian building on Main Street. The building is from the late 19th century, but the business itself was established in 1857 – which as things go is very early, for the Western US.

The interior of the store is totally splendid; a classic old-fashioned hardware store; three bays supported by pillars, a high ceiling (adorned with the tin panels that were the standard at the turn of the last century) and a feature that I had read about, but had never seen – a wire-guided pulley system for transferring cash from three points within the store to the office at the back. There appear to have once been three different points-of-sale within the store, but all the cash paid for merchandise was sent in a little wooden jar to the office at the back – and a receipt returned. It’s very curious – the predecessor of those pneumatic tubes at motor-banks. They don’t actually use it any more, and the duty manager whom we talked to confessed that it is a little bit of a pain, when they try and bring in something large – just to get it around the wires. But still, it’s an interesting bit of Americana. And of course, my daughter loves that Henne’s has two official cats on the premises, who lounge about the place as they please, and deign to catch the occasional mouse now and again.

I love retail establishments that have official cats; it’s almost expected that independent bookstores have them, but really – any retail store except maybe a fish market, or a place serving food – is improved by being adorned by the presence of a cat. Or a dog, if necessary; a tutelary spirit, in any case.

Midsummer in the South Texas Garden

Our Midsummer San Antonio Garden Reveal

by Celia Hayes

At this point, we have about filled the back yard of my San Antonio home and the narrow strip running along the side of the house with just about everything it can hold; plants in the ground and plants in pots, or hanging from baskets from the edge of the back porch. Now my daughter has begun looking speculatively at the front of the house … which admittedly has begun to look a little neglected. Well, those parts not covered with enthusiastic plants are looking neglected. Five or six years ago, I planted one side of the driveway with mostly xeriscape plants, and things which I recall from Greece. There’s a small olive tree in the middle of it, with a fig tree, and two grapevines growing on metal obelisks, a pair of rose bushes, a lot of sage and rosemary, and one tall bay tree. It’s become pretty much a jumble, now, but a not unattractive jumble. It all thrives on whatever rain falls from the sky.

It’s the other side of the driveway, and the walk up towards the front door … that is the area which my daughter warns me is looking a bit slummy. “We don’t want to be ‘those people’ in that house,” she warns me, balefully. The Matterhorn of mulch supplied in the spring by the neighbor doing serious tree-trimming helped a little bit, but the bald fact remained – the length of walkway to the front porch borders a long skinny stretch of mulch with nothing much to break it up save a pair of wildly enthusiastic rose bushes and a small almond verbena tree. I had started a planting at the end – where the gate to the back garden opens, but the stretch in between it and the rose bushes looked … well, bare. And my daughter was struck by an idea when we saw some garden adornments on sale at Tuesday Morning. Among those items were some tall metal shepherd hooks, to hang plants from – very sturdy items and at a very good price.

Why not line the walk with four or five of these, and hang baskets of plants, and some bird-houses which she got at a yard sale a couple of weeks ago, and swap around the two birdbaths? Move the small concrete one out to the front, for the amusement of the birds, and the tall metal birth bath from where it had been to the middle of the garden in the back yard. So, ’twas done this morning, and with a humongous bag of potting soil, all the new hanging baskets were planted. We even added a new rain-gage to the eccentric collection of garden ornaments … one which I had been agonizing over at the Antique Rose Emporium. On Saturday they only had four left, so obviously I had to make a decision … and by this afternoon there was even some rain in it. At last I have been rewarded in planting the flame acanthus and agastache bushes, which between them have sprawled out a long way along the back fence. This week we have seen a pair of hummingbirds busily working their way along the red, and red-orange flowers, almost every morning and afternoon. They might even eventually discover the humming bird feeder, too…

How many useful and attractive plants can one cram into a small suburban garden? I don’t know yet, but we’re having fun finding out.

Our Nations Anthem on July 4th

Happy Birthday America

Happy Fourth of July

by Randy Watson

“The Star-Spangled Banner” is the national anthem of the United States of America. This year is the 200th aniversary of the War on 1812, the inspiration to Francis Scott Key to write the lyrics of the Star Spangled Banner. Francis Scott Key witnessed the bombardment of Ft. McHenry by the British Navy ships in Chesapeake Bay during the Battle of Ft McHenry in the War of 1812.

Madison Rising, a conservative rock band, has recorded a version of the Star-Spangled Banner that is one of the most beautiful versions I have ever heard. Madison Rising is on a mission to not only make great music, but also send a message that American culture is alive and well. Madison Rising, named in honor of James Madison, the fourth President of the United States and a key author of the Constitution, The Bill of Rights and The Federalist Papers. The band promotes the principles of liberty, independence, smaller government and personal responsibility. Enjoy.

God Bless America!

“The Star-Spangled Banner”

O say can you see by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
(Madison Rising chorus)

Because we are the brave
Yes we are the brave
We’ll fight tyranny
In the name of the free
We are the U.S. of A

For those unaware
That flag is still there
It’s our future to save
This land of the brave
The U.S. of A

Oh say does that star spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land, land of the free and the home of the brave

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner, O! long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation.
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!