On October 29th, 2011, there was a snow storm in New Haven, CT.
The week leading up to it, amid ominous forecasts, my first thoughts were not to my ancient house (it’s weathered worse), my ability to bike around (a little snow never stopped a true cyclenthusiast), or my lack of truly appropriate footwear. No, the very first place my mind went was to our beloved fig tree.
Spring came late this year, which meant summer came late, which meant it was the end of October and despite a few plump specimens appearing each week, the fig tree at the farm was still mostly laden with hard, green, unripe figs. And we were reluctant to think that a snowstorm would help things along.
So I took it upon myself to harvest all the figs off the tree during a Friday workday. My skin itched from all the white sap for a good few hours. But it was worth it. I didn’t weigh them, but there were a lot of figs.
What was I going to do with them? Preserve them, of course.
Rachel and I ran to market in her car to pick up our csa before the storm rolled in. It started to snow while we were at the liquor store on our way back. The only logical way to proceed was directly to the new chocolate shop for some spicy hot cocoa, a freshly baked banana muffin, and some truffles. Flakes the size of petits-fours blustered down the street like flocks of starlings. We sat at the window on our faux-fur stools and paused.
Eventually, somehow, we made our way back home. First order of business was unloading all our bounty. Second order of business was prepping this motherlode of figs for the pot.
Rachel, as always, was the trooper in all of this. As I was going upstairs and downstairs, helping to install the Control Group show in our basement, Rachel took the lead, paring off the stems and slicing the all-important crosses in the bottoms.
A lot of boiling, straining, stewing, and reducing later, we had three quart jars and four pint jars of alluring, dark, aromatic figs cooling on the counter.
I opted for raw cane sugar over processed white, but you can go either way. The raw cane sugar is what gave this batch that dark, caramelly colour (and flavour). I also used organic apple cider vinegar instead of lemon juice, cause that’s what I had on hand, and it turned out great. Though if you are planning to can these and keep them for months, I suggest you follow the recipe to a t, cause acid balance is crucial to canning recipes if you want your product to keep. We also scaled up this recipe three or four times, because, like I said, we had a lot of little figgies to get through – but even with all these modifications, it still turned out great.
Preserved Unripe Figs (from the NYT Magazine online)
1 to 1.5 pounds unripe figs
2.5 cups sugar
5 cups water
6 whole cloves
1 organic lemon, peel removed in six long strips
2 sterilised 1-pint wide-mouth canning jars
Pick the figs. Wear gloves.
Wash, cut off stems, and score the bottom with an ‘x’.
Get a big pot. Fill with figs; cover with water. Bring to a boil. Boil for 15 minutes.
Strain figs. Rinse pot. Return figs to pot and repeat boiling process until the water remains clear (I only had to do it once more, but you can do it twice more if you’re goody like that)
Get those figs back in there cause they’re itchin’ for some sugar and spice. Add the water, sugar, juice of half the lemon, four of the peels, and all the cloves. Bring to a boil; simmer partially covered with a lid until the liquid reduces to a syrup and the figs start to glisten.
Cool the figs in their syrup.
Put into jars, with one lemon peel each (I used rosemary and sweet mace instead), and seal.
Refrigerate. They’re ready to eat after a week (if you can wait).
I gave some jars to the YSFP staff, Rachel (of course), and a house of cool Yalies across the street.
After a week had passed, I could hardly wait to get my hands on them and try them out with everything. I’m happy to report they were a) not poisonous, b), palatable, and c) delicious with cereal, yoghurt, smashed on toast, eaten straight with a spoon, and hosts of things I haven’t thought of yet. What should I try them with? I’m thinking of reducing some with balsamic vinegar soon.
There was one night that week where I was in a composing mood, so made this very simple little dessert.
I had saved a few of the largest fresh figs that were ripe, sliced them thinly, and served them with a quenelle (such a great word) of greek yoghurt (a testament to the heights of human genius), a drizzle of local wildflower honey, toasted crushed walnuts, and a sprinkle of nutmeg and Szechuan pepper, finished with a few halves of those preserved figs.
My first attempt was not quite as nice. What can I say, I was eager. It was, what shall we say, rustic.
Still delicious. But I realised that, yes indeed, less is more, and tried again.
Check out that sweet side ooze.
Charlotte and I shared this little morsel. A few bites each and that’s all we needed. Luckily I still have a good part of a quart of these figs left, but who knows for how much longer.