Homemade Fig Preserves
Some of the figs at the house become perfectly ripe and drip honey just before you pick them and others, especially after a rain, split open and become the ideal basis for Fig Preserves. The first time I saw the fig tree full of a chorus of open-mouthed fig sopranos, I said, “oh, we have to make preserves out of all those open figs!” And everybody looked at me like I was nuts. “Whaddya mean? Fig preserves?! That’s not a thing” was essentially the answer (well, translated from the French). It seems that in Pelion, Greece, nobody had ever heard of fig preserves. I think it goes back to how in Mediterranean areas, fig trees are tantamount to weeds. Maybe they don’t get the respect they deserve. Long story short, I insisted in making them and now they are a family favorite along with the traditional bitter orange marmalade, golden plum and blackberry preserves.
Here’s the recipe:
1 kilo (2.2 pounds) fresh, peeled, green Kadota figs or stemmed, unpeeled purple Mission figs
¾ kilo (27ozs) granulated sugar*
1 tbsp finely minced ginger
1 tbsp grated lemon or orange zest
juice of 1 lemon or 1 bitter orange
Either cut the figs into small pieces (how small depends on what kind of texture you like in your preserves) or puree them with **an immersion blender. In your largest stock pot place 4-5 clean empty glass jars (recycled jars with screw-tops will do just fine), cover with water and put over high heat. It usually takes a long time to get such a large volume of water to boil, so put the jars on the stove before the jam. Put the figs into a large heavy-bottomed pot, add the sugar, ginger, zest and juice and mix until all the sugar is incorporated and you have a wet, sticky consistency. Put the heat on high until you reach a boil. There will be foam but you do not have to ***skim it off the top. Music to boil jam by: My favorite old school rap song, "Jam On It" by Newcleus. Watch the video here. After the foam subsides, you can begin to check for doneness. It may take another 15 minutes after the foam subsides for the preserves to be thick enough. Each jam is different so exact times are hard to give. There are many done-ness tests to do and one I learned from Valeria and feel works well is to take a cool, dry saucer and let a drop of the preserves fall on it. If it remains dome-like and doesn’t spread at all, your preserves are fully cooked and will spread well on toast. If they are too runny, they work well as an ice cream topping or you can re-cook them.
Once your preserves are thick enough and your jars and lids are at a rolling boil, you’re ready to jar the preserves. Utensils you will need: 1 long wooden spoon, 1 ladle, 1 plastic funnel cut in half so that the pouring space is narrower than the jar mouths but wide enough for the preserves to go through, 2 oven mitts and ideally 1 friend standing by, surgical technician-like, to make the process go more smoothly. Using the long, wooden spoon, fish out one of the jars and shake it upside down to remove excess water (the spoon should be inside the upside-down jar). Place the jar right-side-up next to the pot of preserves. Place the funnel over the jar, ladle in jam up to just millimeters from the very top, fish out a lid with the spoon and, using oven mitts, screw the lid on very tightly. Flip the sealed jar upside-down on the counter and proceed with the subsequent jars. Allow to cool completely. There are often some extra preserves that won’t fit into the jars and that can be ladled into a cup and eaten with toast the next morning.
*Since figs are sweet, sweet, sweet, I find that they go well with a little less sugar than normal (usually the jam-making ratio of fruit to sugar is 1 to 1) and with astringent flavors like ginger and citrus zest to create a zingy-sweet balance.
**This year I learned that before cooking, taking an immersion blender to the peeled green (or unpeeled purple) figs gives you a smooth consistency while leaving the little, crunchy seeds intact.
***This non-skimming thing is new to me this year. Previously, I had removed it as I do the foam that rises to the top of chicken stock. The idea was that the foam carried the impurities and if not removed, would cloud the stock/preserves. Well, Valeria was told different, we went her way and no harm was done. Makes the process a lot easier, too