A beauty of the unexpected is its utter simplicity. As you make your way through your daily tasks, you never know when you’ll come across that thing, be it sound, taste, appearance, a singular moment that lifts a day-in-the-life into the extraordinary.
One day, it was the buzzing return of hummingbirds to the trumpet vine outside my second story sitting room window, just when I had given up on them. Another day, it was my discovery of four football-sized watermelons camouflaged beneath the vigorous growth of our first-time volunteer patch. How clever and sneaky of them!
And just this past Thursday, when I visited my friend Maggie at her country abode, it was a box of fresh-picked figs that she placed on her kitchen counter with the announcement that we were going spend the afternoon making preserves “just like mama’s.”
And Maggie’s Louisiana Mama Knows Figs. Talk about good. Hoo-wee.
Now, the only negative–if you can call it that–to these pleasing unforeseens is that rarely am I armed with my camera to document them. So, you’ll have to take my words and conjure your own pictures of us gingerly selecting and cleaning the figs, occasionally pulling a plump one across our teeth to sample the honeyed goodness. Or skimming off the foam, using the wooden spoon to fold the figs and lemon bits throughout the thickening syrup, taking care to keep the figs intact as they simmered.
We used a recipe from Lee Bailey’s Southern Food as a guideline. It called for destemming the figs and cooking them with lemon and sugar “for 10 minutes or until they’re done.” Well, it took more like an hour and ten minutes of us hovering over the deep skillet, stirring, testing, fretting, waiting for the syrup to thicken, the lemon rind to glaze like candy, the figs to achieve a dense caramel translucence.
“Mama always kept the stems on,” Maggie said. It was more than an aesthetic. “That way you can pluck them out of the jar just so,” she lifted one up daintily with thumb and forefinger, before chomping down with a moan.
At least I can share with you the results.
For Sunday morning breakfast, I found there to be no better way to herald the day than with a macchiato, made by champion barista Bill, and some sourdough toast spread with whole milk ricotta, made by the Cheese Maven Kathleen and these Maggie-and-her-Mama’s Lafayette, Louisiana style fig preserves.
Fig Preserves, Lafayette-LA-Way
rule of thumb–for every pound of figs, use one cup of sugar
4 lbs. Figs, cleaned, stem left on
4 cups Sugar
1 1/2 Lemons, sliced
Place figs into a deep skillet. Add sugar, then just enough water to dissolve the sugar. Place lemon slices throughout. Bring to a simmer, stirring and folding the figs carefully, sometimes shaking the skillet side-to-side. Skim off the foam as it accumulates. Simmer like this for at least one hour.
The figs will change from purple to brown; the lemon will cook away, and the rind will candy. The syrup will become thick, brown, and glazy.
Place into jars and either cool and refrigerate, or process in a 5 minute bath.