Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Here, readers, we have a classic example of why you should be careful what you wish for. V. and I have been together for almost five years, and we've been living together for almost four. When I first moved in, there was a fig leaf tree in the backyard. Since I am a person who normally eschews all manner of fig leaves, I found it, while somewhat pretty, mainly a nuisance in that it bore no fruit and needed to be navigated around when cutting the grass. Then, about two years ago, it bore a handful of figs. And last year, we got, oh, I don't know, maybe as much as a pint of ripe (and delicious) figs from the tree.

And then there was the Great Fig Flood of 2008. I suppose it just took a while for the fig tree to find its way in the world, but it has certainly done that. On one occasion this summer, I had to call a friend, who'd told me in the past how much he loves fresh figs, to come over and please, please, please relieve me of some of these accursed (but delicious) figs. He came and picked about a gallon, but the next day, I was able to harvest almost as many more. A neighbor saw me picking them and asked what they were, and when I explained that they were figs, he said, "Oh, is that an Italian thing?" V., you see, is Italian. I replied that I believed that figs were somewhat universal, but then he replied that he was Norwegian, and I recalled that figs really do best in zones 7 through 10, so I allowed that figs were likely not a Scandinavian phenomenon. In any case, I prevailed upon him to take two handfuls of the figs, and, thus emboldened, I went to the next door neighbors, where I unloaded a quart or so. I also told them that they could feel free to help themselves to more figs from the tree, and they liked the figs so much that they eventually did so.

I eventually bought a food dehydrator and dried a substantial number of figs. They shrink quite drastically under drying, but they retain a good flavor, and I expect to stew some of them in a bit of red wine and honey to make a delicious yogurt topping. Before I got the dehydrator, though, I looked around for other methods, and I came upon recipes for candied figs.

I'm going to admit right up front that I don't, apparently, care much for candied figs. They are, you see, very sweet. Hence the name. I had some trouble eating them, and I thought that perhaps I had done something wrong, but when I offered the jar of candied figs (which, by the way, are gorgeous) to V. upon his return from a recent trip to Bogota, he tasted them and exclaimed that they were very good indeed, going so far as to hope that they would last long enough to be included in a Christmas basket for his mother. He also allowed that they are, indeed, very sweet, but apparently that's to be expected.

This is a lengthy and somewhat inexact recipe and procedure. It is not, however, difficult, though it requires some patience. It is similar, in some respects to making any sort of fruits confits, though it's not nearly so difficult as that. But it does require at least a week to complete because it takes a fair amount of time to replace most of the water with sugar. The recipe I adapted to make my recipe notes that you can use the same process on either plum tomatoes or apricots. I'm sure that glaceed apricots prepared this way would be splendid, but if you try it with plum tomatoes, please don't say that you got the idea from me. I had plum tomatoes from the garden, and I just made some sauce. Also, it's probably best if your figs aren't extremely ripe for this recipe, but some of mine were, and they survived pretty well.

Candied Figs

About sixty medium-ripe to ripe figs
2 T. baking soda
More sugar

Rinse the figs well. Then add the baking soda to about a gallon of water and soak the figs in the mixture for about ten minutes. Drain thoroughly and let dry.

In a heavy saucepan, mix together sugar and water in a ratio of about three cups of sugar to 2.5 cups water. You should have enough to cover the figs. Cover and heat until the sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil, then let cool. Add the figs and return the syrup to a boil. Simmer, uncovered, for twenty minutes. Cover and let sit overnight.

Once or twice a day, return the figs and syrup to a boil and simmer for twenty minutes. Cover and let sit at room temperature after each cooking. Repeat this process until almost all of the syrup has been absorbed. This will likely take a week or so.

Place a rack over a half-sheet pan. Remove the figs from the saucepan and place them on the rack. Let drain.

Preheat your oven to its lowest setting (170 degrees on my oven). Place the figs in the oven and heat until they are nearly dry. You can do this an hour at a time and stop in between if need be.

When the figs are as dry as you think they're going to get, add some granulated sugar to a large bowl. Add the figs a few at a time, roll them in the sugar, and remove them to a plate. Store the figs in a jar. If they begin to throw off a lot of syrup/moisture, dry them again in a low oven.

I got a fairly significant feeling of accomplishment from making the candied figs, and even when I thought that they weren't any good, I was happy to consider keeping them in a jar on the table to sit around and look pretty. Naturally, I'm happier that someone thinks they make good eating, though.

I reckon I can give some of them away at Christmas, but if anyone has any other uses for candied figs, I'd be happy to hear about them. Or for dried figs, for that matter. Everyone I've talked to about fig trees has lead me to believe that I'm likely to have at least as many figs every year from here on in.

I still haven't figured out what to do with the fig leaves, though.


Post a Comment

<< Home