I live in a house which is almost one hundred and fifty years old. It sits on a strangely shaped piece of property measuring a little over two acres. On this property we have some of the most amazingly majestic live oaks I've ever seen, too much bamboo, lots of native flowering bushes, quite a few pecan trees and assorted other things like hydrangea, azalea and magnolia.
There is, however, a startling lack of fruit trees if you don't count the pecans and I don't because we get virtually no nuts off of them. That's probably our fault, but neither here nor there in this conversation.
I am certain that over the years, there must have been blueberry bushes, mulberry trees, peach trees, fig trees, sand pears, and so forth. Folks must eat! We are trying, slowly, to reintroduce some of these things to the property but they are mostly slow-growing and so we must depend on generous friends and U-Pick places for the fruit we like to eat and preserve.
Yesterday I had just gotten a message from a friend whose fig trees are in overdrive, inviting me to come pick when my husband called, saying a co-worker had brought us in a large bag of figs.
Time to make preserves!
Fig preserves are one of my favorites. First of all, the fruit is just so...well, darnit, sensuous. No wonder it's an age-old symbol of fertility. How can a fruit be so male and yet so female at the same time? Or is that just me?
According to a quick Google, I find that figs were probably one of the first fruits ever cultivated by people. References to them can be found in the Bible and in the mythology of many cultures. I'm not surprised.
The figs I have in my possession today are, I believe, the Celeste variety. Small and purplish brown with a luscious almost-coral inner flesh, they grow quite well in our area.
I've had the recipe that I use for fig preserves for so long that I can't remember where I got it, but I think it was from a very, very old cook book. It's the kind of recipe I like- simple, direct, and to the point. I cook my figs whole, rather than cutting them up, and add a few lemons to the mix to add that sour spark that makes the sometimes almost too-sweet flavor of the fig pick right up and dance.
The pleasure we'll have in opening a jar of these preserves next winter, spooning out some of the figs to mash on a fresh biscuit and pouring over some of the sweet syrup, is quite enough to rationalize the time and money that goes into making them. Let's face it- it's cheaper to buy fig preserves than make them, but that's hardly the point.
Here's the recipe I use:
4 lbs. fresh figs
2 lemons, sliced very thin and seeded
4 cups of sugar
1 cup of water
Wash figs and cut any stems. Combine sugar and water and bring to a boil. Boil for five minutes.
Add figs and lemons. Cook rapidly until clear.
Seal in clean, hot jars, process in boiling water canner for fifteen minutes.
Makes 3 pints.
Please watch your figs as they boil because if you go off to do something (like write a blog) and ignore them as they boil, you will walk into your kitchen to find something of a huge mess.
Also, when you measure out your sugar, you might find yourself thinking, "Golly, this is more sugar than my family uses in a year!"
True, but, sugar is part of the preservation process and so necessary in this recipe. Console yourself with the idea that you will be eating small amounts of the resulting sweet goodness. Then, do your very best to avoid the temptation to just take a spoon to the jar. Add some whole wheat and flax seed to your pancakes or biscuits and when you are eating them with these preserves, you can almost believe you're doing something good for your body, despite all the sugar.
You will certainly be doing something good for your soul.