Sunday, October 24, 2010

I Go Gleaning Again. On The Jam! How To Make Fig Preserves In One Easy Step!!

    So I've spent the last 2 weeks flat on my back. Well, not exactly flat. Because of the surgery I've had to sleep sitting upright, but other than that... in my non-Zombie moments I've been dreaming of getting back on my feet again. I've missed my cooking, I've definitely missed my eating and I was afraid that the complications I'd been dealing with were going to cause me to miss Fig Season.
   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.
    I had been worried that all my dental complications would make me miss this long awaited even,t and it turned out that the very day we were to go after figs was the day my dentist wanted to examine me. So I figured I had to get up and put on my big girl pants anyway. Since I had to go to the doctor, I might as well get some figs out of it. At least that was my rational. So bright and early, I was at Kristens' door ready for action.
     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.
   I had never seen such a huge fig tree in my life! It was a ginormous Kadota fig. For those of you who haven't had any Kadotas, they're a lovely green color with a pretty rosy pink inside.
They're not as sweet as the Black Mission figs but they have a light grassy flavor with a pleasant, mildly sweet perfume. 
     We plunged into the huge tree. It was loaded!!!
    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
  more stops to make at different ends of town and we were eager to see what was awaiting us there.
  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.
   These figs were easier to reach. The trees were shorter and we didn't have to worry about any traffic on the road at that early hour.  We started loading up. We picked a lot more figs at this location, but the birds had already beaten us to the biggest lot of them. We grabbed what we could and then hit the road again, this time traveling into the center of town to the house of another friend of Kristens who happens to have a fig tree but no love for figs.
    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.
    Kristen you would let into your yard... me I'm not so sure.That's why I travel with her, she looks so much less suspicious, and innocent.  When all was said and done, I came away with something like 15 pounds of figs. I was in hog fig heaven.
    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.

  Fig Preserves
   Trim the stems and any hard parts off of 3 pounds of fresh figs.

Cut them up into pieces.
   Put them into a pot along with 2 cups of sugar...
and the zest and juice of one fresh lemon.
Stir it all up in the pot, mix it together well, then put it on a medium heat until the mixture starts to bubble and boil. Don't let it burn!! When it starts to bubble, turn the heat down to low, cover the pot and let the fig mixture simmer for an hour or so until it thickens. Depending on how ripe your figs are, this is a matter for eyeballing. The riper they are, the faster they'll mash down and thicken up.

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!


  1. It must have been wonderful to pick your own figs! I wish we had them in Minnesota ;)! Your jam sounds delicious!

  2. I don't think I could be any more jealous right now if I tried- my good god, woman- the day you have just described is my absolute fantasy- and just LOOK at all those figs. I'm very happy the day you were able to crawl out of the rabbit hole you got to experience such a perfect activity. Think I'll do a figgy dish one last time before it's too late...

  3. This looks delightful! I love some good fig preserves.

  4. I am obsessed with figs this year! Actually made 36 half pint jars of fig jam a couple months ago. Love the recipe you provided! Glad that you are back on your feet again! Rainy in the East Bay today and I bet Sonoma has even more rain. Enjoy a relaxing Sunday!

  5. *I* used to have a fig tree. *I* used to get to eat figs. *I* don't get figs anymore. You make me want to cry.

  6. @Amy, I am crazy for figs and this was just too good to be true!!! We haven't got any fig trees on our property and how people who do can dislike them??? Amazing!!

  7. @salty seattle,
    Yes, I am too too greedy for figs! There are more to be up are walnuts, quince pomegranates and persimmons. Love the post btw..I'm voting as soon as it's opened. is that your Halloween costume, Sexy Alice? Love it!

  8. @Lisa Authentic Suburban Gourmet,
    we're lucky to live where there are so many..yes they're predicting close to 5 inches of rain this weekend. We were flushed out of our coffee place this morning when it flooded.

  9. @Janis,
    You are breaking my heart. There are no figs there??? None?

  10. Glad you are up and about...and roaming around looking for these wonderful figs!

  11. I recently discovered fig preserves in my local organic shop. Couldn't resist buy a very expensive jar. Next jar I'm making your recipe. Thanks for sharing this! Your puppy is so beautiful.Love the new look, very nice.



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