We have been making lots of fig jam this summer. We usually do for a couple reasons. Number 1, figs are very plentiful in Southern California. Many people have a fig tree or know someone with a fig tree. Number 2, fig jam goes well with crispy pork belly. which we also like to make in the summer, or anytime of the year.
I didn’t know much about figs until Anne and I started to go to Italy. There I had a couple of very big fig moments.
We had a neighbor who lived directly across from the apartment we stayed in. She used to sit on a plastic lawn chair right outside her door and smoke cigarettes. When she wasn’t smoking cigarettes she was watering her plants or trimming vegetables. She was one of the sweetest people I have ever met. One hot August day, she knocked on our door and handed me a porcelain bowl of ripe figs. When I say ripe I mean ripe. These figs were splitting in two.
At the time they were too much for me. I couldn’t appreciate them. They were just too ripe for my taste buds. I don’t remember what we did with them, but I brought her clean bowl back to her the next day. I think she assumed we enjoyed them
The second big fig moment occurred a few years later. We were in Italy again. I was at our friends Paola and Franco’s house. Paola was getting ready to do a pizza class for some students that I had arranged to come to her cooking school.. We had made the dough. Franco and I had lit the fire in the wood oven and we had time to spare as we waited for the dough to rise. Franco asked me to follow him out into the fields to help him pick figs.
The fig trees were in a big open field. Three of them sat side by side and they were absolutely filled with figs. Looking up from below the trees all I could see was purple. As I climbed the ladder to retrieve the figs the branches shook and figs dropped exploding on Franco’s truck parked beneath the tree. I climbed to the very top of the tree and peered across the valley. It was one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seem. It was dusk. The sky was reddish orange and the tree was filled with bright purple figs looking for a home.
I don’t remember what we did with the figs. I know that most went uneaten, but at that moment I came to learn and appreciate the fig.
Here is a simple fig jam recipe. It yields a small quantity of jam so you can store it in the refrigerator. It should last a few weeks.
Take 1 pound of figs rinse them, cut off the stem and quarter them. Place them in a stainless steel bowl with 1 cup of sugar, the zest and the juice of an orange. Stir the fig mixture and place in a non reaction sauce pan. Turn the heat to high and gently stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar dissolves and the mixture comes to a boil. Reduce the heat and let simmer for about 15 minutes until the jam thickens. Keep a watchful eye and do not let it burn. When the jam is ready I usually cool it down by putting it in a metal container set in a bowl of ice water.
Rely on your senses to tell if it is done. The color of the jam will darken and become glossy. When you stir you’ll feel the resistance as it slowly thickens. The figs will break down and spread out. They will not completely break down. I like them to remain semi-whole, but well cooked and soft.
Try the jam on a piece of grilled bread with some cheese. Drizzle a tiny bit of olive oil. Sprinkle with course sea salt.