Tuesday morning, I went out to the squirrel feeder, AKA fig tree, to discover that the next almost-ripe fig has been chewed into. The goodness of another ripe fig gone to those pesky squirrels! Time is running out for any figs to ripen with cold nights just around the corner.
This scenario plays out year after year. We've only tasted a handful of our own ripe figs since we planted the two fig trees almost a dozen years ago. Evidently, there's not much else for squirrels to eat at this time of year.
My Response to Pesky Squirrels
Earlier this week, I took a bucket with me, and picked as many unripe figs as I could reach. Ripe figs are squishy when still on the tree. The unripe ones are firm. To pick an unripe fig, you have to twist the stem, until it breaks, being careful not to get the oozing sap on your skin, as it's a known skin irritant.
When I brought the full bucket of green figs into the house, I filled it with water and set for a 20-minute soak to release the oozing sap while I rounded up jars and spices. Spiced fig jam makes a nice gift, because it's so unusual for this area. So I look for cute small jars for packaging these gifts.
You can use ground spices in this jam, but it's less muddy-looking if you use whole spices. I retrieved my cheesecloth, spice-infusing bag, some cinnamon sticks and whole cloves. I used a whole lemon last year for the zest. This year, I just have bottled lemon juice. I do think that it would be beautiful with long strips of lemon peel in the jar. I'll save that thought for another year.
After the 20-minute soak in water, I drain the figs, trim the stem end and pierce the bottom end of each (this allows the sap to ooze out), and place the trimmed figs in a stainless pot, covering completely with water.
I bring the trimmed figs to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Unripe figs need 2 to 3 simmering sessions, using fresh water each time. Afterward, I drain the figs in a colander, giving them and the pot a quick rinse. I, then, fill the pot of figs with water. Over Med heat, I bring it to a boil (poke them down from time to time, as they're buoyant), simmer, then drain, repeating this process one last time (for 3 simmering sessions, in total). Drain. Figs change from bright green to an olive green with the cooking process.
The figs are now ready to turn into either jam or whole fig preserves. This is how to make the jam.
1 quart of fine-chopped, cooked figs (unripe), about like you would chop for pickle relish (chop in food processor or with stick blender)
1 1/2 cups water
3 cups of sugar
2 sticks of cinnamon (loose in the jam mixture)
1 heaping tablespoon whole cloves (tied up in cheesecloth or muslin)
3/4 cup of lemon juice
- Fine-chop the cooked, drained figs.
- In a medium stainless or enameled saucepan, stir together fine-chopped figs, water, sugar, and lemon juice. Add the spices, then over the lowest heat, simmer for 1 hour, stirring often. When done, the jam should have some translucency. (Because I like a little extra spice, I add 4 pinches of ground cloves towards the end of the cooking. It gives the jam a rich, earthy, savory flavor. That's up to you. Taste towards the end of cooking, to see if you'd like any extra spice.)
This is supposed to be a thick jam. It will stand up in mounds on a saucer. If you'd like a more "syrup-y" jam, thin with equal parts water and sugar and simmer an 10 additional minutes.
Remove whole spices. Spoon into sterilized jars. Process for 10 to 15 minutes (according to elevation in NCHFP guide in link below) in a boiling water canner. My yield, beginning with 1 quart of fine-chopped, cooked figs is about 5 to 6 half-pints.
The National Center for Home Food Preservation indicates that a boiling-water canner is sufficient for jams and provides timing according to elevation in a table on this page. In addition to the information concerning jam-process timing, the NCHFP also has a good page about the process for using a boiling-water canner, in case you are unsure.)
This spiced fig jam is delicious paired with a mild and soft cheese, like Brie or even cream cheese, to spread on crackers. I spoon several tablespoons onto a block of cream cheese, to serve with plain crackers.
Just to let you know -- I store my jars of jam in a spare refrigerator. I have no idea how long this will keep on a shelf in the pantry.
A couple of years ago, when I decided to do something with our unripe figs, I had no recipes for this jam. I had to take my little knowledge of figs combined with making jam, then began experimenting. I based my recipe on those for whole, unripe fig preserves. I feel fortunate that I live in a time when I can find information at the touch of my finger through the internet. Other, more pioneering women, had only their intuition and experience to go by in these circumstances.
So, a recipe for unripe fig jam. How does that help you? It doesn't, that is unless you also happen to have a fig tree in your backyard. However, we all have things come to us for which we have no idea how to handle, cook, repair or use. We could discard these freebies. However, the process of doing, creating, and improvising forges pathways in our minds, propelling us onto new horizons and handling new challenges. And that's what makes the human experience extraordinary, in my opinion. After all, as humans, we would never make any progress if we didn't try something new.
You'll find this post, and many others like it, just a click away on this page -- a compilation of my recipes, shopping lists, and menu plans that illustrates how I feed my family of 4 adults on $125 to $135 per month.