Tuesday, November 15, 2011

On Fig Preserves

My mother’s fig preserves
The answer to what items I would save from a burning house might include my mother’s fig preserves.

I suppose they are conserves to be more exact — whole fruit, the Brown Turkey variety, slowly cooked in a luscious syrup of sugar and just a bit of lemon juice.

For as long as I can remember, a jar of fig preserves has been within reach. Jars stacked in the cupboards, an open container in the refrigerator. Always, always fig preserves at breakfast. With biscuits. With eggs sunny side up.
A proper breakfast: eggs, buttermilk biscuits and fig preserves.

Though their origins are Mediterranean, figs do just fine in the steamy South and of course love California. It’s nigh to impossible to grow them up North.

You’ll find fig trees throughout the rural South, usually around old farms and house places. They tend to ripen around mid to late July. It begins a human battle with songbirds and raccoons to see who will claim the larger portion of the harvest. I suppose a mature tree could be so prolific as to satisfy man and beast.

Sometimes the abundance is so great that uses other than preserves are devised. Fig cakes. Figs in fruit cakes. I remember a trending dish that called for strawberry gelatin to make a kind of strawberry-flavored fig preserves. They were good, as I recall, but odd. And unfair to both fruits.

The fresh fruit is one of the most wonderful things you will ever eat. It’s a shame figs don’t travel well because what you find in stores is often too firm (and will never ripen properly) or moving toward moldy.

I’m not  hoarder of food, except when it comes to fig preserves.  One day I caught my husband putting them on a peanut butter sandwich.

“You can’t do that,” I said. “Those figs are too precious.”

Which I realize was a bit unkind.

We eat them with hot biscuits and fried eggs. I love them drizzled over fresh chèvre or alongside a more aged variety of goat cheese.

Fig preserves with Milton Creamery Quark cheese on multi-grain toast.

Susie Kauck of Return to Sunday Suppers recently wrote about figs and posted some gorgeous photos of France. She loves figs.

I’ve eaten excellent figs abroad, beautiful things, perfectly ripe and hand selected by the market vendor. One experience stands out and that is the fig tree discovered while strolling an old path in the Limousin region of France. It was like a chance encounter with an old friend, and I managed to find a few pieces of late-season fruit. I also found salad burnet, one of my favorite herbs, growing wild.
Fig tree near Collonges-la-Rouge, France.

I’ve brought home jars of fig preserves made in France, but they cannot compare to those from the family estate. Before my grandmother died, she was in charge of fig preserves. Then my mother took over. My parents have two trees that are about 35 years old. Chickens relax under their shade in the summer.
Fig trees in Louisiana
Young figs, not yet fine.

I used to return from visits home with a heavy load of carefully wrapped jars in my luggage. But now, air travel being as it is, I don’t dare haul them home for fear of damage or confiscation. A stash arrives by post in the fall, once temperatures have cooled a bit.

Six jars came the other day. We are ready for winter and the long months until the next harvest.
Summer in a jar: fig preserves.


  1. What beautiful memories you have of figs! You are so lucky to have access to them fresh off the tree, just like in France.

    Thanks for mentioning me in your post!

  2. I've only ever seen dried figs, never fresh. I didn't realize how beautiful they are when cut open. Though maybe it's just your photography.

  3. Susie:
    Thank you so much. I love reading your beautiful blog.

  4. Jill,
    Figs really are quite photogenic. Sometimes Meijer has fresh figs in the summer. The quality can be iffy at times.


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