Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Fig Madness

Fresh fruit makes me nervous. That seems like an odd thing to admit, but I surely can’t be the only one who, when faced with a basket of, say, fresh spring strawberries or summer peaches at the peak of ripeness, experiences a slight frisson of anxiety when they consider that there is no way all that fruit can be consumed in its purest incarnation (that is, right out of hand, preferably standing over a sink to catch the juices) before it invariably begins to cross the line into over-ripe territory. I can’t stand the thought of beautiful farmers market fruit languishing in the refrigerator, slowly turning to mush before being tossed out with the trash.

This doesn’t hold as much for the sturdier winter fruit like apples and citrus, which can survive a surprisingly long period of neglect in the fruit basket, but for summer stone fruits and berries the window of opportunity to eat them when they are perfectly ripe is short-lived. I usually get around this by only buying small quantities, but in the case of the figs I purchased at Sunday’s farmer’s market, I had no choice but to get them by the basket. A small basket, to be sure, but still more than enough for one person (Todd is teaching Arizona this month, and he also doesn’t like figs, which I think means there’s something wrong with him.)

All seemed well until that evening, when I sifted through the basket, looking for a likely specimen to scarf down. While most of the figs were plump and just a bit soft – i.e., perfection – there were a few that were mushy, their skins beginning to shrivel. And what was this? This one was splitting on the bottom, threatening to leak its seedy, sweet flesh…

In a moment of panic I seriously considered eating the whole basket right then and there, but luckily I came to my senses in time to prevent what would surely have amounted to gastrointestinal disaster. The thing to do, since obviously I wouldn’t be able to consume the whole basket before they started to go downhill, was to cook the figs. Since I had already tried my hand at roasting, I decided to make fig preserves.

I set about trolling the internet, looking for an easy-sounding recipe I could make with the ingredients I had in my kitchen (the nearby supermarket is open 24 hours, but I was feeling lazy). Eventually I hit upon this one for fig preserves, which was as simple as they come - requiring only figs, sugar, honey, water and lemon juice. I decided to give it a try, with the addition of the spices from this recipe and a couple pinches of curry powder thrown in for good measure.

Little figgies waiting for their bath...

Bringing some sugar and spice to the party...

The original recipe called to simmer the ingredients for 10 minutes, but I let mine go at a fairly vigorous bubble for over 20, probably closer to half an hour. This gave me a chunky jam that is probably not as loose or sauce-like as the original recipe intended, but which I preferred.

Give it a stir every now and then...

Just a bit of warning, this is very sweet stuff (and I even used a bit less sugar than the recipe called for), though the spices help a little and give it a nice warmth. I actually added the curry powder at the end upon tasting it and thinking it needed something more to cut the sweetness, but don’t go overboard with the spices or you’ll mask the flavor of the figs. I might reduce the honey a tad as well next time, but I think the nature of fig jam in general is to be sweet. This makes it a nice foil for a rich, pungent cheese like gorgonzola or brie, or as an accompaniment to roast pork. If anything, I can at least breath a little easier now, knowing my summer bounty won’t go to waste.

Spiced Fig Preserves
Adapted from Simple Daily Recipes with Jill McKeever

1 pint fresh figs, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons sugar [I used very scant spoonfuls, so it was probably more like 1 ½- 1 ¾ tablespoons]
2 tablespoons honey
½ cup water
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice [I skipped this because I didn’t have any lemons on hand and didn’t want to go to the store just for a tsp of juice. Can’t hurt to add it if you have it; mine turned out fine without.]
1/4 tsp each (scant) of ground ginger, cloves and cinnamon
A couple pinches curry powder [the spices were my addition, and can probably be played around with in terms of amounts and types used]

Bring all ingredients except lemon juice to boil in small saucepan over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to medium and let simmer, uncovered, until thick, about 15-25 minutes depending on how saucy or jam-like you want it. Let cool, then stir in lemon juice, if using, and transfer to glass jar and store in refrigerator.

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