You see, figs are among my very, very, very favorite things in the whole wide world and I happen to be lucky enough to live in fig central. A place where you can throw a rock in any direction and hit a fig tree. My friend and gleaning partner Kristen Vigurie who owns Junipero & Co. here in Sonoma, had promised me we'd go fig gleaning, and it was one of the things I was looking forward to as I healed. She'd been scouting around town for weeks looking for trees loaded with figs that either were just all by their roadside lonesome, or owned by people who either didn't like figs (hard to believe) or couldn't use them.
We've had a relatively cool summer here in Sonoma. We had a long, wet, cold, rainy winter and a few blazing days just in the last month, and now in late October the trees were laden with heavenly figs just waiting to fall into our itchy little fingers.
We decided to target 3 spots for figs. One was a house owned by friends of Kristen who were out of town for a month and told her, "come and get our figs!" That was all we needed.
They're not as sweet as the Black Mission figs but they have a light grassy flavor with a pleasant, mildly sweet perfume.
Many of the ripest figs were near the top of the tree and there was no way we were ever going to reach them without some sort of ladder. We looked around and couldn't find anything to get us near the top so we did the best we could with what we had. We picked what we could reach, rapidly filling our baskets, working out way around the tree gathering as many ripe Kadota figs as we could. Then we decided that since we couldn't locate a ladder, we'd have to come back and pick again another day. There were plenty of figs that just weren't ready yet.
I can't even imagine how many figs were on the tree but we barely made a dent. Just to give you an idea of the size of this thing... take a look. That's me disappearing into the tree. I could have been eaten by the thing it was that big. We decided that we'd gathered enough at that location. There were still two
We headed down Broadway which is the main street running into downtown, and after some twists and turns wound up in what passes for an industrial area in our town. Actually it's more like a public orchard with a bunch of warehouses around it.
While at the last location, some morning fog had rolled in over the hills from Petaluma and we found ourselves picking on a foggy back road.
This time it was Black Mission figs, just there for the taking. We got out our fig boxes and started in.
Wouldn't you know that that's always the way it is? If I owned the tree this lady had in her yard, I would be out there every morning in my underpants picking. I would be over the moon. I would be sleeping sitting up with a shotgun, guarding against crows and grackles. I would be watching out for people like me who wanted my figgy bounty. This was where the real damage was done. Here I am at my bad ass gangsta gleaner best.
For anyone who's dealt with figs, they don't exactly have a long shelf life unless you're planning on drying them. They have to have something done with them and sooner rather than later. I decided on fig preserves.
Even though I've done a lot of canning and preserving and pickling, I'd never worked with figs before. There are a million fig jam and fig conserve and confit and preserve recipes out there. They involve almost any spice or liqueur one could imagine. But I wanted a recipe that was simple and would let these very very fresh figs be the star. I wanted edible perfume.
I decided on a very old and very simple recipe containing nothing but the pure figs, some sugar and a fresh lemon. When you're working with material this perfect, keep it simple.
This is what I did.
Trim the stems and any hard parts off of 3 pounds of fresh figs.
Cut them up into pieces.
While the figs were jammin' Patsy relaxed in her "office".
When the figs are nice and thick and jammy, put them into sterilized pint jars and process for 10 minutes in boiling water. Three pounds of figs should give you three pints of jam.
I did this several times in the last several days. The first time I used 3 pounds of figs. The last three times I used four pounds per batch and increased the sugar by 1/2 cup and the lemon by half.
Finally after putting up all my figs, I noticed the price of figs at Sonoma Market. $4.99 a pound for Black Mission, $5.99 a pound for Kadota. My figs...priceless. In more ways than one.
So here I sit on a cold and rainy Sonoma Saturday night, watching the Giants trying to clinch their World Series bid, nibbling toast and home made fig jam. Ambrosia... pure ambrosia!