Time for figs to be ripening

My week has been a medium one, as far as having things to do. The holiday messed with my mind, and I didn’t know from day to day what day it actually was! Wednesday evening, my friend invited me to go with them to Cuero for the fireworks display. It was not very long lasting, but it was truly beautiful and we really enjoyed it. Friday, I attended the funeral of a friend, (and have another one to attend this week of a long-time Auxiliary member); and on Saturday went to the town of Shiner for a festival they were having. It was hot, but since they had some rain, it wasn’t dusty, and on Sunday, we finally got a few drops of rain. On Sunday, I went to Victoria to visit a long-time friend who doesn’t get out much anymore and while we were visiting, it was raining, so my drive home was mostly in the rain, which I didn’t mind at all. After a short stop in Cuero at the large HEB, to pick up things I need for helping hostess a meeting on Tuesday, I drove home in clear skies and you couldn’t even tell it had been raining. Go figure!
Since it seems to be the season for figs, here’s a little information and a few recipes that I’ve gathered over time. To me a fig is a fruit that you either love and eat and enjoy it or you dislike them totally. I fit somewhere in between, they’re fine, and probably very healthy for you but, I just don’t care for them that much!
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 exclusively raised there 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 fig, 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.
Fig Preserves
3 cups chopped, peeled figs
3 cups sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice (fresh, frozen or bottled)
1 box (small) strawberry, raspberry or blackberry gelatin
Combine all ingredients in large pot, cook and stir for 15 to 20 minutes or until fairly thick. Pour into hot sterilized jars and seal immediately.
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 a boiling water bath.
Jell-o® Fig Preserves
6 cups ripe figs
6 cups sugar
Pinch salt
1 large or 2 small boxes of Jell-o®
(Apricot, peach, strawberry or any flavor of your choice)
Remove stems from figs, peel if desired, chop or mash. Put into large pot and add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil and cook and stir for about 15 minutes over medium heat. Ladle into jars and seal.
Several years ago, I received some peaches that were beautiful, but did not have a very ‘peachy’ taste. I used peach flavored Jell-o® and the peach pulp and had a great ‘peachy’-tasting jam when I finished.
Have fun trying out these recipes.
Here are a few interesting facts I picked up off a Food Reference Website several years containing culinary articles, food history, facts and trivia that I found in my files.
Fig Newtons were created in 1891 by the Kenedy biscuit works in Cambridgeport, Mass. They had named many of their other cookies for nearby towns, and almost called the “Fig Shrewsbury” before “Newton” won out.
The following alternate story is from an article in the St. Petersburg Times, 1998; “The man who originated the Fig Newton, Charles Rosser put his cookie recipe to work in his factory in Kenton, Ohio, and sold out to Nabisco in 1910, says Ray Arsenauylt, in ‘St. Peterrsburg and the Florida Dream.”
Fig Newtons were one of the first commercially baked products in America.
According to the information in my files, at one time, Fig Newtons were the third most popular cookie in the United States, with over one billion being consumed each year.