We’ve been collecting figs a handful at a time and freezing them — split in half and stems removed — for months. This morning I finally made a batch of jam. And the house smells like heaven. Well, Eden, actually.
When they simmer for a little more than an hour with sugar, lemon juice and zest, something mysterious hangs in the background, behind the smell of sweet. Something dark, serpents in the trees and jungle-y. Just a touch, but enough to make it interesting.
I’d never tasted a fresh fig before I alit in North Carolina 41 summers ago. As a kid I loved fig newtons (maybe because they and those flat, shiny raisin cookies attached with perforated lines) had a somewhat healthy vibe and slipped through the no-sweets-on-weekdays dragnet). And every Christmas my great-grandmother Josephine made her fig cake which was a white layer cake with boiled icing and a filling of ground, dried figs.
But fresh figs were new to me when I moved to rural North Carolina. To eat a sun-ripened fig, pulled from the bush, is a unique experience. For one, the object we call the fruit is actually a flower so that’s why it’s filled with a kabillion teensy seeds. Smaller than chia seeds, they won’t bother you when eating figs either cooked or raw.
These last two summers, as our bushes finally edged into bearing, we’ve had figs out of hand, grilled on pizzas, slow-cooked with chicken and blue cheese, in a bourbon-goat cheese ice cream, atop a Dutch baby. This year we finally had enough for jam.
I made the first batch this morning from a recipe on thespruceeats.com. I’ve tried several good recipes from this site, beginning with the only good greens I’ve ever cooked (not bitter or slimy). The first recipe I looked at today called for 6 pounds of figs and 3 pounds of sugar. I don’t know how you would eat that since “the spruce” recipe calls for only 3 pounds figs and 2 cups sugar and is plenty sweet.
You’ll need the usual paraphernalia: Large canner with a rack, half-pint jars with rings and new lids (you can only vacuum-seal them once), a ladle and wide-mouth funnel, a knife to pop air bubbles in the jam and a level, draft-free place where the jars can sit undisturbed for 24 hours after they come out of the canner.
Best fig jam in the universe
3 pounds figs, rinsed, stemmed and halved or chopped
2 cups sugar
1 large lemon — zested and juiced (I used 2 small today)
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
Mix all the ingredients in a stainless steel kettle and bring to a boil, stirring constantly, When it boils, turn back the heat and hook a candy thermometer over the kettle’s rim. You want to see it hit 220° so your jam will gel. This will most likely take 45 to 60 minutes.
When it does, ladle the jam into hot half-pint jars leaving 1/2-inch headroom at top. Wipe off the jammy jar rims with clean paper towels dipped in the boiling water. Run a knife blade through the contents to distribute fruit evenly. Put on lids and rings. Do not fasten the rings tightly until the next day. Lower jars into boiling water 1 to 2 inches over the tops and after water returns to boil, process for 10 minutes.
Makes 6 half-pints. And please don’t worry about the calories. A tablespoon of jam is only 3 Weight Watchers points which means a teaspoon is a measly one. And when you’ve made jam as good as this, you get a lot of flavor from a tiny taste. Try a dab atop a schmear of goat cheese on a cracker.