Fruit Memories-Figs

Ripening fig on tree

Fig leaf

Continuing the food memory thoughts into the summer–today’s post is about figs.  Figs were important to my mother–one of the things she asked me to do before she went into a major surgery several years ago was to “be sure to pick the ripe figs and preserve them!”   Mama and Daddy had a huge spreading fig tree while they lived in the Dallas.   A mature tree will be 10-12′ tall and at least as wide.  Theirs would threaten to cover the driveway so it received a heavy pruning every year and it bore a lot of fruit for years.

Since I am in Chicago’s northwest suburbs, I have been reluctant to try growing a fig tree.  I knew from an old episode of PBS’ The Victory Garden that gardeners further north than me successfully grew fig trees–one gardener in Canada would dig a trench to bury his tree every year for the winter!   This year I  decided to go for it.   The research I’ve done says that the Brown Turkey Fig (Ficus carica) should be ok if pruned as a shrub and covered in the winter or grown in a container and brought inside during the winter.  I bought one (these photos are from my tree) and am going to try it in the garden.   We won’t bury ours, but we will cover it for the winter.  (and, of course, build a fence to protect it from deer nibbles.)

I love the leaves almost better than the fruit. They are large and almost leathery (no wonder they were used as modesty covers for statues) and durable. I have used the yellow leaves in the fall at dinner parties as menu cards.

My mother’s fig preserve recipe is so easy, even I can do it.   Here ’tis:

Start with clean, ripe figs. For every measure of figs, use half that same measure of sugar. We picked ripe figs every few days, so she might preserve figs once a week during the height of the season.  For example, for two cups of figs, use one cup of sugar. Add a few slices of lemon. Start cooking figs and sugar in a small saucepan over a low flame. You can use a little water to get the mixture started.  Cooking time will depend on the amount of figs.  Allow the mixture to get to a low boil, then turn it down and cook for 30 minutes or so until very thick.  Allow to cool, and place in sterilized jars. Mama would seal her jars so they could be kept in the pantry, but I just put it in the refrigerator to keep.  I grew up eating fig preserves on toast.  They are also delicious served with ice cream or with pork chops.

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