Thursday, August 15, 2013

Roadside Fig Preserves


First, find yourself some figs.

You could go buy some at the store, or if you live in California you can tool around the back roads, preferably near old farms and river levees, and look for huge out-of-control fig trees that grow on the side of the road. 
 My rule of thumb for scavenging figs is that if the tree is not obviously part of someone's yard, and has a large amount of figs on the ground, you can bet that no one will care if you take some. 

If it's part of an orchard, that's pretty much stealing. 

Although having said that, I did take some pears from an orchard that had already been harvested and only had a few banged up stragglers left that were obviously going to be allowed to fall on the ground. I feel no guilt.
This is what I mean by out-of-control fig trees.
After you've collected your loot, you will want to eat a bunch of them in the car. Judging the ripeness of figs is a little different from other fruit. You don't want them firm, although for preserves or jam it's okay if they're not quite ripe yet. Ripe figs feel soft to the touch and come off the tree very easily. If it feels like a firm tomato, it's not ready. If it feels like an over-ripe slightly squishy tomato, it's just right. If they look like they have cracks, that's fine. 
Our Fruit Haul
To make about two big jars of preserves, you need:

Two of the larger sized canning jars and lids
3 pounds of fresh figs 
2 1/2 cups of sugar, or 3 cups if the figs aren't super sweet
1/2 cup water
Zest and juice of one large lemon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

Boil your jars and lids to disinfect. Meanwhile, slice your figs into discs, about four slices per fig. Put them all in a big pot with the rest of the ingredients, and simmer on a brisk med-low simmer (I set the stove top on 3) for about 30-40 minutes uncovered, stirring gently and occasionally, it should look all thick and chunky and syrupy when it's done. 

Fill the jars, leaving just a bit of room at the top. Screw on the lids really well and them put the jars back in the pot of bubbling water that you used to disinfect the jars, for about five-ten minutes. 

Remove and let them cool. I store them in the fridge, but you should be able to store them in a cool dry cabinet until they're opened. 

Serving suggestions-

Obviously you could serve this with good old bread and butter, but fig preserves go really well with goat cheese, and other cheeses (I'm sure you've seen fig and goat cheese recipes all over the internet) and it's also great with Greek yogurt or ice cream. Add a 1/2 cup of it to your favorite beef stew recipe along with some coriander, or use it to glaze a roasted chicken about ten minutes before you take the chicken out of the oven.