Old Fashioned Fig Preserves
The Johnson Nature Center is blessed with two sizable fig trees so we’ve been up to our eyeballs in fresh figs for the past few weeks. They’ll still be producing for a while, I think, but we have crested the peak. I’m basically a fig newbie but I’ve learned a bunch in the past few weeks.
When to Pick
I believe I ate my first fresh fig at a restaurant last year. It was underwhelming, but I know what the problem was. The fresh fig is ONLY tasty when its perfectly ripe.
Picked even one day early, the fruit will be fairly bland. The figs on the bush ripen at all different times, so basically you need to scour the tree every day or every other day, just taking the best ones. Some signs a fig is ripe are:
- color has changed from green to brown (for my ‘brown turkey’ variety anyway)
- feels pretty soft but not mushy
- skin is starting to split open
- not fuzzy but smooth on the outside
A ripe fresh fig is SO good. Nothing at all like a fig newton. I highly recommend you test for ripeness by just tasting every so often. Then you know that a fig that ‘looks like this, tastes like that’. My two trees are a little different, even though they’re right next to each other and the same variety.
Canning some fig preserves are the perfect way to use up a big batch of fresh fig. Both mine and my husband’s grandmothers separately gave me this method to try, and it works well. So basically, this is the real deal if you are looking for Old Fashioned fig preserves. All you need are figs and sugar.
First, you need a bunch of figs. I used ‘two days’ worth, but last week I could pick all I needed on one day. Basically, you need about half a bucket full. This was not quite enough, so I combined with some from the previous day.
Add a layer of figs to the bottom of a large non-stick pot (for easy cleanup. Any pot will be fine.) A wide pot is preferable for faster cooking.
Cover the first layer of figs with about 1/4-1/2 cup of sugar. Then add another layer of figs and sugar. Repeat until your pot is full or you run out of figs.
Then stick the pot in the fridge over night. This allows the figs to ‘make their own juice’ as the Grannys said.
Sometime the next day, put the pot on the stove and turn the heat up to about ‘medium-high’. Let the figs boil rapidly until they reach the desired consistency, stirring regularly especially as you near the end. Total cook time was about 30 minutes.
I preferred to mash my figs with a potato masher while they were cooking, that’s just a personal preference though.
There are several ways to check whether the preserves are ‘done’. First, watch how the juice runs off the stirring spoon. If it pours off like rain water, you aren’t there yet. When done, the juice will run off in sheets or streams. I also used the cold spoon test. Keep several spoons in a glass of ice water. Quickly dry one off and drop a dab of preserves on it. If it cools to the consistency you want, then you’re done cooking.
Next drop your preserves into sterilized jars. From here on out, you can just use whatever canning procedure you are comfortable with, and if you don’t have one, I recommend google. Actually this site was quite helpful, though as you can see, I did just fine without any special tools.
I leave 1/4 inch of room at the top, and then close tightly with sterilized lids. I also prefer to ‘process’ my jars for about 7 minutes in boiling water, because I don’t fully trust my sterilization skillz.
Some additional thoughts:
Practice makes perfect. My first batch took forever, and I’m sure I looked like Lucille Ball juggling molten preserve jars with kitchen tongs. However, Rounds 2 and 3 were easy as pie.
If you cook your preserves too far, they’ll be super hard at room temperature. You can salvage them by adding more water while cooking. Just make sure to bring everything back to a boil for a minute or two.
This size pot of figs makes 5-6 full 8-oz jars. I’ve given away a few but here’s my stash so far. I feel like a prepper!!