Figs are one of those fruits that fascinate me. Outside of a fig newton, I had never tasted figs until I was in college, and even then it was out of desperation. Putting myself through college, my work life involved many
carefully thought out random part-time jobs that, pieced together, allowed me to live in a cute apartment with a good friend and eat mostly Cheerios and Ramen Noodles. Yes, I was living the high life. One of my jobs was giving tours at a local open air museum, and occasionally I was assigned to work a ticket booth that was labeled The Dead Zone because no one (and I mean NO ONE) ever used that entrance. While it was a failure at generating ticket revenue, I actually loved working in that little ticket booth because I could take a good book and read for hours uninterrupted. Well, mostly uninterrupted.
You see, the ticket booth in question was near a very large fig tree whose canopy extended over the museum fence and shaded the city sidewalk on the other side (this was Florida, fig trees grow BIG). Did I know this was a fig tree? Uh, no. Did I know I could pick figs and eat them? Uh, no. My suburban upbringing left me woefully unprepared to forage for my own survival. Katniss Everdeen would have kicked my a**.
And then, I met two little boys. One day, these boys came by my ticket booth carrying plastic grocery bags and asked me if they could pick the figs on the other side of the fence. Their mom had sent them up the street with an assignment and she must have been paying them, because they were all kinds of serious. I told them to go ahead and pick what they wanted. What did I care? I was getting paid to read Edith Wharton. Then I got curious. Figs? As in FOOD? I watched the boys pick the figs and eat some. I tried one. I was hooked. The boys came back several times over the summer and I always enjoyed hearing their conversations from across the fence. Sometimes they would ask me questions about the museum, but mostly they were all business. And so was I. I think I ate my weight in figs that summer.
And thus began my love of figs, which were not only delicious (and free–thank you Florida taxpayers), but they were probably the only fresh fruit I ate all summer. If it weren’t for some ginormous, multicolored tree
dinosaurs grasshoppers that scared years off my life when I saw them, I probably would have picked the tree clean.
Had I known how to cook, I probably could have made better use of those figs. If I had known about THIS recipe from my friend Heather at Sugar Dish Me, I would have totally made that (and I will as soon as I get me some more figs!). Figs are just coming into season here in central NC and I plan to sock away as many as I can. I found this recipe for sticky fig jam in “Put ‘Em Up” (LOVE this book) and it is absolutely delicious. The blend of figs and balsamic vinegar is pretty amazing. It’s great on toast, but we have enjoyed it on pork tenderloin, on pizza, over cream cheese as a dip and on grilled cheese sandwiches as well. Figs are also one of those great fruits that can be frozen whole for up to 6 months, so if you can’t decide what to do with them, just pop them in the freezer!
Last year, a friend gave me a fig tree cutting and our little tree is growing nicely. We even harvested one fig this summer! I need to talk with Tom about planting another fig tree…and finding me a ticket booth…I miss Edith Wharton…
Sticky Fig Jam
- 2 lbs. figs, washed, stemmed and cut into halves or quarters
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 c. balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 c. bottled lemon juice
- Add figs and water to a non-reactive stock pot and heat over medium for about 5 minutes, until the figs begin to soften.
- Use a potato masher to mash the figs.
- Add the sugar, vinegar and lemon juice and stir well. Simmer for about 20-30 minutes, until the mixture is thick and sticky. Test for gel by putting a spoonful of the jam on a plate. If you run your finger through the jam, it should stay separated.
- You can put the mixture into jars and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks or can into half-pint or 4 oz. jars using a hot water bath for 10 minutes. Let jars sit in the canning pot for an additional 5 minutes with the heat off and the lid removed.
- Remove jars from the bath and let sit for 24 hours. Test seals and store for up to 1 year.