… and figgy wine, whole preserved figs, dried figs and jam of figs … As you can deduce, we have a bounty of figs, at this very moment. This miracle has occurred, even as the small tree in my front yard stubbornly refuses to bear more than five of six measly figs in a season, which the birds usually beat us to anyway. How is this possible? Because we have neighbors who have fig trees … one of which – of the huge-and-purple-when-ripe Celeste variety – has the most of it’s fruit-bearing branches leaning over the fence into a public space. The other – to judge from pictures – is of the small-and-pale-yellow-when-ripe Kadota variety – and is growing in the front yard of a neighbor who has given us permission to pick the darned things when we feel the need. They are both prolific trees, the Kadota especially; and there is a point when the owners of a fruit tree get damn sick of eating the output. I know this – I had something like ten or fifteen apricot trees lining the south boundary of the house that I rented in Utah, and it was years before I could bear to look at an apricot again … dried, or ripe, or especially rotting in the grass. In any case, we have gleaned nearly fifteen pounds of them this week, and have barely scratched the surface of the Kadota bounty. In other words, there appear to be just about as many unripe figs left on the tree after we’ve spent ten minutes snagging all the ripe ones in reach and filled two plastic grocery bags half-full.
Now we know why figs are so expensive in the market – the things are delicate, almost impossible to pick without bruising them or splitting their skin. The supermarket sort must almost be wrapped in bubble-wrap in order to get them to the market in any condition at all. They are almost instantly perishable, which must be why most people only know them in their dried incarnation, or as the filling for fig Newton cookies. And the only way that I can only afford to explore the myriad modes in which ripe fresh figs can be preserved … is by having access to the fresh-from-the tree source. (Warning – do not rub your eye, with fresh fig-sap on your hands.)
Fig jam is easy enough – the dried version is a bit of a challenge, because drying them whole in the American Harvest Gardenmaster dehydrator which was a souvenir of my tour in Utah … is a tough fit, at first. Even the smaller Kadota figs are too fat to fit onto the drying trays – which are designed to accommodate fruits and vegetables sliced to inch-thick or less slices. I did three trays of them sliced in half, which was not satisfactory, aesthetically or taste-wise. Then, I put a tray of them in the oven at lowest temperature for a couple of hours to shrink and dry at least a little bit … and they seem to be moving on very nicely.
So, on to a recipe from a much-lauded Southern cookbook, which calls for them being washed in a bicarb-of-soda and water solution, and then simmered and steeped over most of a week in a sugar solution; this has promise, I think. And I will bottle them, and save on the pantry shelf, which is now taking over the top shelves of various closets in the house …
I don’t know quite why I am moved to do all this now. Something in the air, I think. Even thought it is scorchingly hot now … there is a winter coming. And I want my pantry shelves to be full. I want my household to have food to eat – to have pickles and jams, and canned bounty. It’s one of those atavistic impulses, I know. But winter is coming.