As September comes rushing toward us, I’m scrambling to develop culinary souvenirs of the summer. In addition to a precious batch of bright sugar plum soup, I’ve frozen a quart of mellow, slightly sweet corn soup. Then there are the desserts – with berries no longer in season, I’ve been making sorbets from every melon that’s rolled my way.
But sorbets won’t keep forever. If you don’t eat them within a week or two, they become hard, tasteless, blobs from the defrosting-refrosting cycles of the freezer.
So I’m preserving. The highlight of which this week was figs.
I’ve been in love with figs since childhood, when one of the major features of my grandmother’s back yard was a pair of giant fig trees. If I spent the night at her house when the figs were ripe, I’d go out and pick a giant bowl of them for breakfast. And as the season wore down, she’d make a big batch of fig preserves to last through the year. I saved all her recipes I could find, but I’ve never uncovered that recipe, and I suspect she used a method more seat-of-the-pants than written directions.
Now before you roll your eyes at the idea of making preserves, let me just tell you that there’s hardly anything more satisfying in the middle of a cold, gray winter day than opening up a jar of something that calls up memories of the very best of summer. You can find a recipe for preserving almost anything on the web, and most of them are pretty simple. Fruit, sugar, a bit of lemon juice (which helps retard spoilage) and any other flavor you want to mix in: clove, cinnamon, ginger, almond extract, various liqueurs, ... the list is endless. About the most difficult part is finding a grocery store that stocks Mason jars, which are the best and easiest to use. They come topped with metal bands and rubber-rimmed lids; the bands are reusable, but the lids shouldn’t be used for more than one round of preserves.
So in the absence of my grandmother’s recipe (which I suspect was just whole figs and simple syrup), I experimented a bit. I wanted something a little less intensely sweet than most (including my grandmother’s), so I worked a whole lemon into the mix, and because I can never resist the lure of candied ginger, I added some of that as well. It’s not too sweet, so I’m planning to smear some as a glaze on a pork tenderloin or chicken breasts; but I tested some on a waffle this morning (gave it an A), and my husband still thinks it’ll be swell over vanilla ice cream.
Lemony Fig Preserves
2 pounds figs (I used Mission, but green figs would work as well)
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons candied ginger, chopped
Start by running your jars (without the rubber-rimmed lids or the metal bands) through the dishwasher. The jars should be kept hot until you’re ready to fill them, so I just leave them in the dishwasher with the door closed. Put the bands in a small saucepan with water to cover, and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and add the lids. Cover the saucepan until the preserves are ready.
Slice the stems off the figs and cut the fruit into eighths. Slice the ends off the lemon and cut the fruit (including skin) into ¼-inch dice, excluding the pithy center (what is that part called?). Put all ingredients into a large saucepan, and bring it to a low boil, stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves, and then occasionally until the end. Simmer until the mixture reaches 220º, which will take about 20 minutes.
Carefully – they’ll be hot – remove the rims and bands from the water and let them dry briefly, as you don’t want any water in the jar. Spoon the preserves into the jars, leaving ¼-½ inch of space at the top, then add a lid and a metal rim. If your plan is to eat everything within a month, you can store them as is in the fridge. If you want to make them last longer, put the closed jars into a large pot of water to cover, and boil them 10 minutes. Using tongs, transfer the jars to a work surface and leave them overnight or until cool. You’ll hear a ping as each ring seals. I count the pings to make sure all the jars seal. If one doesn’t, stick it in the fridge or sterilize a new lid and ring and run the jar back through the boiling process. If a jar has properly sealed, you’ll be able to remove the ring and lift the jar by the lid.