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Figs can be used in a variety of dishes for summer parties. Photo courtesy of Foodal
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Jano’s Garden: Falling in love with figs

I was a young art student studying at the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts, and happened upon the classic Italian deli with a storefront vegetable stand bursting with local produce.

As I stood in front of a box of green and purple fruit, the owner picked one up and said, “Want a taste?”

“ It’s a FIG! What, you never had one before?”

“I’m from Wisconsin, we don’t have them there!”

Just like a first kiss, as I bit into this odd, round fruit, the sensuous texture was indescribable and like nothing else I had ever seen or tasted before.

“Oh my God!” I remarked as the green juice slid off my lips.

Slightly embarrassed at my response, I just said, “Yes, I’ll take two boxes!”

And now that I live in Southern California, figs seem to be everywhere, but no one is really quite as impressed as I was 30 years ago with this luxurious fruit. Instead, gardeners bemoan the fact that the fruit ripens all at once, and lasts for just a few days.

If you find yourself with too many figs, make Black Fig Jam. Photo courtesy Foodal

I located fancy fig jam at one of the local health food stores, but resisted the $10 price tag, determined to find an easy recipe of my own. This recipe is from the Foodal blog, and gives a quick jam recipe you can make in less than an hour.

Be sure to purchase figs when soft to the touch, but don’t leave them on the counter too long — they over-ripen in less than two days!

Don’t forget to ask your gardening friends who might have mature fig trees in the yard. Yes, there is such a thing as too many figs, and they will be happy to pass them on to you!

Check the Oceanside Crop Swap Facebook and Next Door Digest for listings of gardeners who are willing to share or swap the fruit and vegetables from their gardens.

Here is that recipe for your fresh figs, from the Foodal Blog.

BLACK FIG JAM

• 1 lb. black figs

• 3/4 cup granulated sugar

• 1/4 cup water

• 2 tsp. lemon juice (juice of 1/2 small lemon)

• 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Instructions

1. Pull the stems off the figs, and then puree them in a food processor until mostly smooth (a few chunks are okay to give it some texture).

2. Transfer the fig paste to a medium-sized heavy-bottomed (but not cast iron) pot. Stir in the sugar, water, and lemon juice. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and then reduce heat to medium.

3. Boil, stirring nearly constantly, until it becomes jam-like in consistency. At this point will look kind of shiny and will fall off a spoon in bigger clumps or sheets, as opposed to small drips. If you are unsure, turn off the heat and place a bit of the jam on a cold plate (stuck in the freezer before you begin), let it sit for a minute or so, then check the consistency to see if it is jam-like. If needed, return to the heat for a few more minutes.

4. Once it is finished cooking, remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract.

5. Carefully transfer the jam to a clean jar. Screw the lid on a bit, but don’t tighten it. Let it cool for an hour or so, then transfer to the fridge (still with a semi-loose lid). After it has cooled completely you can tighten the lid.

6. Store in the refrigerator for one week.

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Figs are also extremely versatile and can be served as a dessert or appetizer.

• Pair them with Gorgonzola cheese mixed with cream cheese and stuff into individual figs on a dessert platter.

• Wow your summer guests with an appetizer tray filled with figs wrapped in prosciutto and  fig crostini. The crostini can be any variety of combination of figs with goat cheese or Gorgonzola spread on a hearty baguette.

Enjoy your summer barbeques and late night fruit snacks. And scour the farmer’s markets and local health food stores for the freshest varieties of this heavenly fruit.

But don’t wait too long, the season only lasts, like all good fruit, a few weeks!

Please contact me with your recipes and local fruit and vegetable finds. In the near future, we are planning a trip to Julian during apple picking season, and, yes, I have a recipe box full of apple recipes to share.

Jano Nightingale is a horticulturist who lives in Vista where she cooks and gardens with her son. She teaches gardening at the Carlsbad Pine Street Senior Center Community Garden and is available to teach adult and children’s garden classes. Contact her at [email protected] or the Carlsbad Senior Center at (760) 602-4650.

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