July 5, 2009

from the tree to the jar: fig preserves

I'll come clean with you. 

I went a little crazy this weekend, but I had to. You see, fruits and vegetables wait for no one--not the sick, not the busy, not those trying to enjoy a holiday weekend. So even though I'm on (hopefully) the tail end of the worst summer cold in my memory and have been taking every OTC medication on top of antibiotics that the pharmacist told me I can handle, not to mention about eight Neti pot adventures daily.... I decided that my plans for the long weekend--to harvest and can and pickle produce from my mother's garden--had to go forward. 
Friday morning I made it out early to my mom's house, and after an hour or so of catching up, we went out to harvest figs. My mom stood on the ground to grab the ones within reach, and I climbed up the ladder. Once we started, it was hard to stop; there were beautiful, perfectly ripe figs at every turn, hiding under every leaf. In all, we picked about seven pounds; she had four in the fridge from the day before for a grand total of ELEVEN pounds of fresh figs. And that was just the beginning. 
The tree in the East Garden is so big that it's got enough for everyone: the birds enjoy their fill from the top of the tree, fifteen feet in the air and unreachable even with our tallest ladder, and we pick more than enough just from the bottom canopy. 

In all, I packed up about 25 pounds of produce, split between figs, cucumbers, banana peppers, zucchini, and carrots. After a quick stop at Wal-Mart (I know, I know--but they really do have great prices) for some half-pint jelly jars and a pot big enough to process quart-sized jars of pickles, I got to work. (I found the giant pot on clearance for only $17, but the look on Ryan's face could be priced much higher. "Now, are we borrowing that?" No--it's ours... so if anyone needs a 21.5-quart stock pot, let me know. You can borrow it!)

On Friday afternoon, I got started on the figs. I'd sterilized the kitchen the day before with hydrogen peroxide, and I kept my hands clean. With all the boiling, anyway, germs were nowhere to be found.

Fig Preserves

15 cups pureed figs (about 11 pounds)
5 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice

First, prep the figs. Rinse them, trim the stems, and toss out any that look highly suspect (I think I only tossed out three figs!). Puree in batches with a food processor. Transfer to a large, heavy-bottomed pot (like a Dutch oven) and add sugar. 

Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, until mixture has reduced and gelling stage is reached.

(I use the frozen plate method: place a small plate in the freezer before you begin. To test the jam, place a small spoonful on the plate and tilt the plate. Swipe your finger through the jam and count to five. If the line reconnects before you count to five, the jam needs more time. If it does not reconnect after five seconds, you're good to go. ) 

Once gelling stage is reached, add lemon juice and cook one more minute. Carefully spoon jam into sterilized jars. Wipe the rims clean and process for 15 minutes in boiling water. 

Friday, the figs got done (12 half-pints, two full pints, and a little left over that went straight to the fridge), and Saturday I worked on pickling the cucumbers. The way I was feeling, though, I only had energy to pickle and left out the documentation. Suffice it to say, three briny hours later I was exhausted and my Fourth of July plans were completely wrecked. Ryan took my brother to the concert we had tickets for, and I stayed home watching Barry Manilow and the National Symphony. 

Sigh. Like Ryan said, though, "At least we have pickles."