It has been years since I collected more than a handful of figs from my tree. I like to wait until they are genuinely ripe before picking them, but they begin to color a few days before that magical transformation occurs. Once there is a blush of brown on those turkeys the calamitous combination of birds, squirrels, and unscrupulous passers by decimates the crop before I can get my hands on any. It’s difficult to fault a wild animal for doing anything in its nature. People, however… I suppose there is some comfort knowing the thieves ate unripe figs, perhaps to their gastrointestinal detriment. It’s not exactly Dostoevsky, but I’ll take it.
This year the bird population is down, most likely due to the cicada blight last year, and the squirrels decided to concentrate on pilfering the persimmons when it got really hot. Cameron had put a sign up in the fig tree last year after so many people stole the fruit, asking that they attempt to exercise self control. It was too late in 2021, but 2022 has been a banner year with five or six kilos coming off the lower branches. I left the higher ups for the birds, particularly the family of catbirds that nests between our house and the neighbor’s. I rather like catbirds.
After I ate all the fresh figs a person probably should, a few paper bags full went out the door with friends, one in exchange for this fabulous squash. Each of us thought we got the better deal, which is, of course, the mark of an excellent transaction. The rest got preserved. Figs dehydrate beautifully, these took about 20 hours at 225° Fahrenheit, and they are now in silicone reusable bags in the freezer. I have been wanting to make some of the fig / date “cakes” with nuts and spices, and now I have the stores. We bought a date cake years ago at Borough Market in London and I have been meaning to attempt one since. Delicious. Excellent on a cheese plate or with pears.
We don’t eat a lot of sweet preserves, so despite the fact that I love making them, I’ve tried to shift in a more savory direction. This is a fig chutney adapted from David Lebovitz’s blog. I mostly kept to the recipe, except I doubled-ish it using a full kilo of figs, and I poured in a bit of allspice dram and lemon bitters for good measure. Are you cooking with bitters outside of making cocktails? Pour a little into your next glass of sparkling water and consider how those flavors can enhance your cooking. They are, for all intents and purposes, extracts.
The last recipe was a fig and balsamic jam from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc cookbook. I got a copy from the library, but I think the recipe may be online, too. As usual, I changed it up a bit, but only by using Christine Ferber’s methods to retain the shapes of my carefully-cut figs in the finished product. They sat in the sugar and balsamic macerating for about an hour before I boiled the mass, then it all went in the fridge. I strained out the fruit the next day and boiled down the syrup, only adding the figs back in for the last bit of cooking. I know restaurants typically want things done quickly, and they did call for a rough chop, so they may have been going for a more rustic sauce, but it’s important to me that preserves be beautiful, especially if I grew the fruit. Mes Confitures is a great book to have if you enjoy making fruit preserves. Check it out at your library or local book store if you get a chance. Enjoy!