August 17th, 2009

Figs, Unforeseen

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.

Simply Grand.

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.

Posted in Fruit, Recipes

13 Responses to “Figs, Unforeseen”
  1. Shelley Harwell Says:

    Your pictures are beautiful and the fig preserves look yummy. I, too, marvel at this fruit from the gods and just late Sunday night put up 55 jars of fig jam. Too many people do not know the wonders of the fig.
    This has been a good fig year and if there are any left on my trees I will try this recipe.

  2. goodfoodmatters Says:

    55 Jars!!!Lucky Woman!

  3. Maggie Says:

    Nance, as always, I am honored to be included in your post! And, you’ve taken the experience to new level with your words and photos! As for Shelley, I’d think I’d died and gone to fig heaven to have that many figs!!! We are doing our level best to get a couple of trees started, so, here’s hoping…

  4. Gloria, MS cube neighbor Says:

    Hello: For the fig preserves, should the sugar water be translucent? Thanks

  5. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Gloria—yes, as it cooks, the sugar water becomes thick and translucent, and it will take on a brownish color from the figs. It’s like you are making a simple syrup. Skimming off the foam (impurities)as it simmers will help insure that clarity.

  6. Madeleine Says:

    Chef Nancy,

    How much water should one use to dissolve the sugar? Your post says “just enough”. Would you give a more specific measurement? My cube neighbor is fretting. :)


  7. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Fret not!
    Really, I would use about a cup of water to the 4 cups sugar. If the figs are nice and plump, they have all the liquid necessary. You’ll see that as they cook.

  8. claudia (cook eat FRET) Says:

    i have never ever gone there…

    it’s like pastry crust to me

    something for other people to do!!!

  9. claudia (cook eat FRET) Says:

    thought i was posting on the tomato canning post – darnit

    a friend brought me some fig preserves from texas. 2 big jars. just heavenly. but sadly, no lemon rind…

  10. Cathey Grossman Says:

    Nancy, I made the jam using Meyerlemons
    and it is fabulous. Next year Im thinking
    blood oranges????

  11. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Cathy, Good for you! I LOVE Meyer Lemons—amazing sweetness.
    Why not try blood oranges? I like that idea….

  12. rach Says:

    Just giving this one another slug of attention. Delicious in every way this post.

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