Foraging for fragile figs

September 7th, 2009

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With Labor Day comes a “back to school” mood, and with that mood memories of many years spent preparing the art room for a new round of  classes.  Days short on time meant bag lunches of fruit, a sandwich and…Fig Newtons.  Is it any wonder that an association still remains?  This month, daily walks to a splendid white fig tree – the Adriatic variety, if my sources are correct – bring back a few hazy memories of figgy brown-bag treats.  The green, sheeny globes of figs are bulging now, inviting me to gather a few every evening as they slowly ripen.  Since the large tree grows next to a railroad overpass, we have access only to the tree tops.  I use an umbrella handle to loop over branches, pulling them closer to twist off a few ripe fruit. Figs don’t ripen after being picked, and can only be kept for a day or two in a cool pantry. So, with twenty-four perfect figs on hand, it’s time to preserve them for winter feasts.

Select firm, ripe fruit with no marks or splits, rinse gently and let them dry. Prepare a simple medium syrup in one soup pot, dissolving 3 cups of sugar in 6 cups of water and letting it simmer while preparing the 24 figs. If you like, add a stick of cinnamon or a few star anise to the syrup. Wash a lemon and cut into thin slices, to be added to each jar. In another pot half filled with boiling water, blanch the figs for 2 minutes. Scoop them out with a skimmer and immerse in the hot syrup, bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer for 5 to 8 minutes.  Sterilize 3 (or 4*) pint jars & lids in a boiling water bath. With tongs, remove the jars; carefully ladle figs into each jar, slip in a lemon slice and top up with the hot syrup, leaving 1/4 ” air space.  Wipe rims clean and place lids on, twist to seal. Place in a boiling water bath (use the one in which jars were sterilized), cover and process for 45 minutes. Depending on the size of the fruit, you may need another* jar. Any remaining syrup is ready for poaching pears or nectarines.  Let the jars cool away from drafts, let rest for a day, then label and store in a cool, dark place for a month. Then they’ll be ready to serve with a cheese platter, as a sweet garnish for duckling or pork – or as a gift for a fig-loving friend.

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Scents-wise: Gathering the fruit or stirring up a jam, the fig’s sensual aromas are so intense – “this should be bottled”, I mused.  A California couple has done just that, with Mediterranean Fig scents and soaps in the Pacifica line.  Visit www.pacificaperfume.com and don’t miss the Mediterranean Fig body butter with almond oil!

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