How do you make Southern Fig Preserves? When the football season is over, I will be out.

Buy brown turkey fig tree.   Small is fine.  They grow very fast and will have more fruit every year.  If you can not find brown turkey fig tree, any fig tree will be just fine.  They will just be smaller figs.  If you know someone with a big one, root one down low with spade being certain to get the roots – by pulling on them and cut them as long as you can on the root and then plant them immediately.

 

Plant 1 fig tree front yard and 1 back yard so that you spread out the risk from squirrels and birds.  Fig trees like a lot of water but not hard-streamed because you will knock off the small green figs.

 

Once you see a fig turn not green and not the yellow color they get next, but the brownish red color, pick it. Wash them by putting them in washed sink and fill with water.  Put loosely in plastic grocery bags with stems still on them.  Store them in the refrigerator, and pick the ones which ripen the next day and do the same until you have a batch.

 

They will continue to ripen in the kitchen if you want them slightly darker by putting them on a paper towel on the window sill.  Birds and squirrels are no problem then.  I see lots of folks having trouble having any figs left to pick.  They do not do this step.  Pick them when they change color.

 

At the end of July in Atlanta you will harvest so many figs that you should get 100 lbs. of figs on 2 trees after a few years.  I tug on the taller limbs to bring them down so I can pick higher-up figs.  I prune them so I can mow under them – so I have a lot of limbs very high up.

 

As with any fruit or nut tree, you want to insure you keep the area under the fig trees clean.  It attracts bees elsewise.  Yellowjackets will make a hole in the ground and take-up residence. Then you have to buy a yellowjackets’ killer with a long stem plastic nozzle and go out before sunrise and put it into the hole to eradicate them.  Smoke is also a deterrent so you can use smoke to make picking the figs easier.  And Wasps will be everywhere from the time the morning is warm until dusk.   Keeping it clean under the fig tree helps prevent these issues. Pecan trees, you can not tell what you have if you leave old pecans under the tree right now when they are all about to drop.  So for different reasons you must keep fruit and nut trees clean under the trees before harvest.

 

You are going to need a pup ladder and 2 layers of clothes and half a day to pick them all.  Use mosquito netting they sell cheaply at Walmart to protect yourself from bees.  I wear a hat and wrap mosquito netting around my head.  The ripened figs on the tree eaten by birds and squirrels leave behind a small amount of very ripe figs which bees will swarm you for mid morning to nearly dusk.  You have to pick figs every day.  And you have to throw figs away far from tree which are half eaten.  No shorts.  Wear gloves.  Long sleeves shirts and jeans. Tuck socks into the jeans at the shoes.

 

When picking figs do not stand on the limbs or they will come loose from the bottom of the tree and spread-out too much.  I pull the limbs down and pull the figs off in a motion that breaks the stem without damaging the fig tree either.  And you will want to run hard nozzle under the fig trees to cut down on bees.  This will clean the land under fig trees of over ripe figs.   I find one tree or the other gets hit pretty hard by the birds and squirrels.  You may need 3 trees with one in the side yard.

But, if you pick the figs every day when they turn brown, the squirrels and birds will not have made up their mind to eat that fig yet.  They want them really to be just before fall off the tree ripe.  That is too late to bring them into the kitchen and wash them off and see which ones need to sit on a paper towel on the window sill for a day because you will not win that battle trying to get them just at the perfect moment.  That is all they have to do is to eat.  They have nothing better to do than that.  You will lose.

If you find one half ripe and half green – those never turn ripe and must be discarded far away from the tree.

Walmart also sells a mosquito net hat for $ 1.50 in camping goods.  Don’t pick figs without it and wear a hat underneath.  Fruit flies and other insects you can not see will eat you alive picking figs.  Figs are great.  But unfortunately not just for us.  Why wear 2 layers of long sleeves shirts and a T-Shirt under all that  and long pants with something layers of underwear and maybe gym shorts on top of the blue jeans ?  They will get through one layer.

 

Pick figs for 59 years and you will see what I mean.  I cringe to think about picking figs.

 

You are trying to cover yourself up completely every inch or you will itch and have to stop picking and take a hot shower for relief.  Hot water will draw the itch out and frankly nothing else works.  Leave any skin visible and you will pick figs for about 2 minutes before you just have to stop.  Even with all these layers, picking them every day – some days I find I have to stop for that day and go use-up all my hot water.  It’s that maddening.  Trust me.  If you are going to make figs someone needs to tell you this.  All of this.

 

When ready to make the fig preserves, get a soup kitchen pot.  This is a pot which is 20 quarts.

 

This will not fit eye of stove and 8 hours of boiling will mar the surface of your stove, so cook on propane on screen porch.

 

Without one of those large pots there is no need to plant 2 fig trees.  You’ll have too many.    Stem the figs.  Wash out the kitchen sink put the figs in and put cold water on them.  Wash them.  Take a serrated metal utility vegetable knife (not sharp) in your right hand and pick out a fig with your left.  Hold the stem near your right thumb and cut.  I can wash and cut 22 lbs. of figs in half an hour.   Some years I cut the figs in half and I think I prefer them that way.  Put the figs in a measuring cup and when full put in pot and write it up as one cup.  You need half as much white sugar as figs so you have to measure them before putting them into the large soup kitchen pot.  This method of washing them will just leave water all over the figs no matter how much you drain them.

 

Fig Preserves require 5 ingredients. 1- a shake of salt.  2- a Small amount of lemon juice in bottle.  3-water (careful not too much.)  4- half as much sugar in measuring cup as 5 -figs.

 

However, if you wash them as I you will have more than enough water on the figs.  And if you use sugar substitutes, you have to cut way down on the water.  You can add water to them as they nearly boil slow simmer.  But you really can’t get water out later. It lengthens the time to cook if you add too much water because you are trying to make a fig syrup.

 

Measure :

 

8 cups figs washed and stems removed

4 cups of white sugar (brown sugar and sugar substitutes will require maybe half the water)  If you are using other sugars other than white sugar the package must give you equivalents to this recipe which is why I break it down several ways for you herein, so that you have half a much sugar as figs.

1  cup cold water will give you a good syrup (if you wash then cook, use almost no water – just be careful not to burn the bottom by stirring every few minutes entire cooking time)

Shake some sea salt on top

1 Tablespoon liquid lemon juice

Turn the burner on where you can turn it up to get it up-to temperature, but then quickly turn it down to medium low for 3 hours or longer depending on how much water you have to turn to syrup.

 

Do not let it boil.

 

Stir every 15 minutes or so with long wooden spoon so you stir it up from the bottom so it does not stick.

 

Boil your jars lids and rings and keep them hot.

 

Use a $ 1.50 canning funnel also found at Walmart by the Ball jars.

 

I wear a pair of oven mitts which are made of what looks like rubber for high heat.

 

A jar grabber found beside the Ball jars is really not necessary with these gloves to fill the jars but you really can not possibly get them out of the water vat after you fill the Ball jars with fig preserves without a jar grabber.  You can not get a hold of the jar.  I can hold the bottle in my left hand and ladle the figs into the funnel to the Ball jars.  Remember that you are getting rid of germs in the water bath and many sites will warn you of these dangers.

 

Wipe the jar.  Place the hot lid on the jar.  Put the ring on the jar.  Tighten.  Heat that in a second 20-quart pot of all water this time a long time.  The longer the better.  The lemon juice really helps in this process but 3 minutes is not long enough.  45 minutes is recommended to insure safe storage of the figs.  You can spend all day doing this.

 

Let them cool.

 

I refrigerate mine then.

 

Throw the lids and rings away after each year and remind everyone to return the jar.

 

I toast bread in the morning, spread butter on it, and then put figs on it with my coffee.  Yum !

 

If the figs are mushy when you stem them you do not need to cut them in half, because when you put them in the jar they will spread well anyway.

 

Mine are gone before Winter gets here.  I am making my second batch now.  I picked figs this morning and I just picked figs tonight.

 

I just picked 11 lbs. of figs from the 2 mature fig trees this morning and another 11 lbs. of figs tonight. I could pick that many figs frankly every day if I wanted to.  I just can not stand picking them.   This measured 23 pints of figs for 22 lbs. which is 46 cups.  I used quart Ball jars.  I did the same exact totals last weekend too and that filled 12 quart Ball jars.  I am making the same recipe tonight and could do it again if I want next weekend.  Or let the birds squirrels bees and neighbors have them.  I find they like my fig preserves better each year but they last a day or two at the most before I get my Ball jar back.  I pick the figs for as many days as it takes to have what I think will fill one 20-quart soup kitchen pot.  Some days near the end of July early August there are so many figs I could still pick but it is beyond my endurance to handle being bit any more than day and just have to stop.

 

These are delicious.  This is all well worth the effort.  If you ever got a jar of these, you would go pick them yourself and see just how easy this recipe is – although I have never seen a recipe that really spells-out the steps.  Everyone assumes you know how to put figs in a jar or how to pick them or what to wear or what to do about insects or how to grow or which tree to buy and how many trees.  They give you mixed measurements of dry to liquid.  They put junk in the figs which ruin the taste.  They don’t tell you how to safely store the fig preserves.  I had to learn this the hard way with mom’s and Aunt Mary Lee’s guidance.  When I go look for a recipe, frankly there is not a complete one anywhere.  I have written all this down.  I use recipes.  I do not cook without recipe. You only make fig preserves once a year.

 

This is a simple straight-forward Classic Southern Fig Recipe.

 

Yes, I have tried many variations.

 

If you pick the figs daily and then make them in batches like this you will spend a good 8 hours making a batch from washing them to finish.  Cooking times vary depending on the amount of water you need to boil down to make the syrup.

 

So for :

 

46 cups washed stemmed halved figs 22 lbs. I over-filled each cup because of space between the raw figs

23 cups white sugar

4 cups cold water or less (I wash my figs last moment so really add about no water)  Once it starts to simmer, the figs which have loads of water in them, will make it obvious how much water you need.  Until then you can not tell and can easily draw this cooking time out trying to make it into a syrup.

6 shakes of sea salt

6 tablespoons liquid lemon juice which is 3 eights of a cup less than half a cup which is 3 ounces.  You can use real lemons and slice them thinly which in the syrup taste great by themselves.  Lemon slices should be put into the fig preserves in each jar to assist in making certain that you do not have germs in the jar.  The acid in the lemon helps.  I just use lemon juice.  I don’t care for lemon slices on my fig preserve toast with coffee each morning.  Lemon is too acidic to my taste in the mornings even if it is prudent from germs point-of-view.

Cook 3 hours or longer on medium low stirring every 15 minutes until you have a syrup.  You will get these quantities correct from this recipe on sugar half as much in a measuring cup as in same measuring cup of figs.  You will probably end-up with too much water and may need to cook for 8 hours instead of 3 hours to get the water to boil-down enough to have the syrup.  It is a fine line between burning the bottom of the pot without enough water, and waiting all night for it to turn to syrup because you put too much water.  If you are stirring the pot however, frequently, you can tell if it is too thick and easily add a little water until it is not too thick when stirring it.

 

Since a pound of white sugar is 2 cups I used 11 and a half pounds white sugar for 46 cups of figs.  You have to measure this or you will not have syrup.

 

You may need to drain the water out of the pot before adding water to it to see that there might be cups of water already in the pot following this recipe.

 

The way I do this is again I wash the figs in clean sink and put them into a measuring cup and mark-up 1 cup figs so I know to use half cup sugar filling the measuring cup up over the top to allow for space between raw figs.

 

Therefore I added 4 cups since when I measured I already had 2 cups of water from washing the 22 lbs. 46 cups of stemmed figs.  You are not going to do that step of measuring how much water you have in the bottom of the pot, but I do.  So I know there is a ton of water in the bottom.  If you add too much water it could take 8 hours or longer simmering to evaporate enough of the water to make the fig syrup.  I figure if you follow this recipe that you will need to add no water to the recipe and will have a beautiful lovely syrup.  You want to have a syrup.  Syrup is the water.  Too much water, never get syrup.  Too little water, burn bottom of pot.

 

Big pot too big for eye ruins stoves.  Heat for 3 hours or longer is transferred from the outside edges of the pot to the painted surface so as when I make boiled peanuts I do use propane on screen porch.  Or a smaller pot that fits the eyes of the stove I am using.  This is why I broke-down the exact quantities for you so you can make smaller batches.  I like making them all at a time and mine are wildly popular.

 

You can begin picking figs at the very end of July in Atlanta.  October 21 and it is 87 degrees outside today.  You can wait no more than one day between picking figs or you will lose them to the animals notably birds and squirrels however if you have planted 2 fig trees one in back yard one in front yard, you will find the tree that they do not hit as hard has more than enough figs for you after about 3 years of growth.  Mature fig trees grow and grow so you do have to prune them before they start the new year’s growth.

 

My mom taught me how to make Southern Fig Preserves she and Aunt Mary Lee.  Since mom made dinner for 7 I had mom teach me all her recipes.  Want to know how to make Squash Casserole ?  Sweet potato soufflé ?  Beef stroganoff ?  Lasagna ?  Prime Rib of Beef ?  I worked my way through college at Georgia as a chef.  I was in charge of 60 employees.  Everyone in tipped services reported to me.  But I ran it from the kitchen until I closed the kitchen, then on the floor.  Then the office. Then the bank.  I can serve 600 people at a time.  Chef Gurley Wilshire Boulevard Beverly Hills taught me and I taught everyone else myself.   After college all I did was computers, travel, and Georgia Bulldogs !  I have a lot of fun.  My Dad said that I had to get out of kitchen work but honestly were it not for him I would have stayed in the kitchen.  I love it.

 

I keep the majority of the Southern Fig Preserves I make so every batch I get 6 quarts or so out of the 12 quart jars I make using this exact recipe every year.  I find myself adding-in less and less water each year to speed-up cooking time.

 

I spend so much time picking the figs and cooking fig preserves that I encourage my friends relatives and neighbors if they want more than 1 jar they should follow the recipe here from my mom and Aunt Mary Lee.  It is gruesome getting the figs off the fig tree.  If they want to eat them raw after I have been picking figs, I hand them a grocery plastic bag and tell them to pick their own.  It’s that much hassle from the ants bees spiders and general itch picking figs.

 

When the football season is over I should be out.  So when Practice starts for football that is when you can begin this process.  I just had Southern Fig Preserves on buttered toast with my coffee.  Southern Fig Preserves and Georgia Bulldogs’ football go hand-in-hand.

 

10-22-2016

 

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