Do you like figs?

This past week was a truly fun week for me, I left for Devine fairly early on Wednesday morning and was there before noon. My great-grandson was visiting with my daughter and shared some hugs and we got into a different car and headed out to LaCoste. My other daughter had come there so we could get together and visit and I could see her two granddaughters. The one is in Texas for a summertime visit with both sets of her grandparents, as she lives in Florida. Those cousins and the boy from next door had a great time playing, running in and out of the house and even playing a couple of quiet games inside. Before they were ready to quit playing, it was time for us to head back to Devine. My daughter and I had bunco that evening and my great-grandsons’ treat was to go to Dairy Queen for supper with his Granddad! I got the impression they had a great time! Thursday, we were back in LaCoste and he got to go play with his other cousins before we all met up and went to lunch in Hondo with my son. Those kiddos sure do love their uncle, they took turns coming and talking to him or just hugging him, and maybe to steal a couple of his French fries, which he is always willing to share. Friday, we went in different directions as I wanted to visit with the other greats who live in Natalia, and my daughter had children to return to their parents to get ready to go to the river with some friends. She and I met back up later and went to a plant nursery that a friend owns, and I managed to find a couple of plants, for my yard, an ixora and a red ice plant. Will they survive? Who knows! The one will be on my front porch and the other in a bed close to my house! With this weather, anywhere from lows in the 80s to highs in triple digits, I will have to keep a close watch on them. I hope everyone had a wonderful and safe July 4th holiday!
My family used figs only for preserves as I was growing up and it was not something that I was particularly fond of. Like most kids, I liked grape much better! Of course, back then, the grape was homemade also, but boy was it good, especially in a jelly roll, or with peanut butter in a sandwich.
The fig tree in our back yard that my Dad planted not too many years after we moved into the house, was literally that, a tree. You could climb up and out on the branches to get close to the top, which was taller than Dad’s workshop, (15 or more feet tall), and you could sit or stand on the roof of Dad’s workshop when they were ready to pick. The trunk was about 12 to 15 inches in diameter and a lot of the branches were 4 to 6 inches in diameter.
There are five varieties of figs that do well in our area, Alma, Celeste, Texas Everbearing, Black Mission and Brown Turkey.
The fig belongs to the genus Ficus. There are over 600 species that are native to the widely scattered warm and tropical regions in both hemispheres. Some species are evergreen, but most lose their leaves over the winter. The leaves are broad, tough, and thick with deep lobes. (They are not only rough to the touch; they can make you itch when you are picking the figs). Ficus Carica is the common fig of commerce and the trees can grow 25 to 30 feet tall.
There are many varieties of edible figs that range in color from a deep purple, which is the Black Mission, to a beautiful brown, which is the Brown Turkey. They are also almost white in varieties such as Adriatic, Smyrna and Kadota. The Smyrna, is known as Calimyrna in California, is raised there exclusively and is the only one that needs pollination. To produce fruit the Smyrna must be insect pollinated from a wild variety of fig. The fig wasp, genus Blastophaga achieves this by laying its eggs and developing to maturity in the fruit of the wild Capri fig. The wasp then carries pollen from the flowers of this fig to the flowers of the Smyrna fig. They also lay eggs in the Smyrna fruit, but the eggs do not develop in this fruit. Pollination results in the production of seeds and therefore of edible fruit. This process is called Caprification.
In the Mediterranean region, figs grow wild. Since time immemorial, it has been cultivated as a ‘poor man’s’ food, because this nutritious fruit can be grown without irrigation. After maturity, they are picked and dried in the sun to preserve them. The earliest of Hebrew books mentions figs. Greek writers have long referred to it. Even the pyramids contain pictures of the fig plant as well as the fruit. (How many paintings by the old Masters have you seen where a fig leaf is used to cover parts of the anatomy)?
Fig plantings are mostly confined to the Mediterranean type of climate and, other than from California, the greatest portion of the World’s commercial production and trade is in dried figs originating in the Mediterranean basin. Turkey leads in commercial production and the United States is next.
The best dried figs from either area are allowed to partially dry on the tree and then drop to the ground. After they are gathered, the sun drying is completed on trays or in boxes in which they are sent to the packers. In California, some of the figs are dried by artificial heat. In Italy, the figs are picked when ripe and dried in the sun on trays.
Fig Preserves
4 pounds chopped, peeled figs
3 pounds sugar
2 large lemons
Slice one lemon into slices one-fourth-inch or less thick, set aside. Remove juice from second lemon. Combine in a bowl, figs, sugar, lemon slices and lemon juice. Set aside for about one hour, stirring occasionally. Place in a large pot and heat slowly to a boil, stirring frequently, as they scorch easily, and also spatter. Lower heat and continue cooking on medium heat until the fruit is transparent and the liquid is as thick as cool honey or molasses. Remove from heat and pour into sterilized jars and seal.
Fig preserves can also be cooked in the oven. That is how Mother cooked them for many years. There is no spattering and no scorching. Simply place all ingredients into a roasting pan, stir well, set the oven at about 250ºF to 275ºF and bake until texture is as stated above. Stir occasionally. Place in jars, etc. (I’m not sure if it’s there, but you can check on a box of Sure-Jell® to see if they have a recipe for fig preserves/jam). I quit doing any type of canning many years ago, so I’m not up on the more modern recipes and instructions. I do know, however, that you can’t go wrong if you purchase a Kerr or Ball canning book that gives you all sorts of tips, recipes and instructions. Mine are all out of date!
Mock Strawberry Jam
4 cups ripe figs
3 cups sugar
1 small box strawberry gelatin
1 box Sure-Jell®
Remove stems from figs and peel if desired. Mash figs to a pulp with your potato masher or chop finely. Mix together the fruit, sugar and gelatin, bring to a boil and cook and stir for about 15 to 20 minutes. Watch carefully as it will scorch easily. Add Sure-Jell® and boil for 2 minutes longer. (Begin timing after it comes back to a full boil). Ladle into jars and seal. Process 10 minutes in boiling water bath.
Even though this recipe is entitled “Mock Strawberry Jam”, you can use any berry-flavored gelatin you desire with the figs. At one time, a friend gave me some beautiful peaches that had absolutely no peach flavor. I decided that what worked with figs would work with peaches and purchased peach gelatin. It worked beautifully and gave the peaches the boost they needed.