Sunday, September 2, 2012

Old-Fashioned Fig Preserves

Figs are magical.  Floral, soft and sensual, they are symbols of fertility, abundance, and enlightenment in various cultures around the world.  In the South, particularly the warmer areas near the coast, they can be easily found in many a backyard.  If you don't have a fig tree, chances are you know someone who does, and the trees are often so prolific that you are inundated (which in my opinion is a wonderful thing) with the precious 'fruits' for several weeks each year.  Figs are technically a sort of inverted flower consisting of flower parts inside the green or brown skin.  They are exceptionally sweet and highly perishable which requires that they are dealt with quickly after picking.  Of course, you can eat them fresh, in salads, or stuffed with cheese and wrapped in proscuitto or bacon, but one of the best ways to keep their flavor around long term is to make old-fashioned fig preserves.  

Fig preserves are a combination of soft, whole figs suspended in a thick syrup.
As I rode my bicycle around Ocracoke Island on the Outer Banks over the summer, fig trees were in every other backyard I saw, and fig preserves were everywhere.  People were selling them in markets, stores, craft venues, and restaurants.  They were beautiful, but I held off purchasing them because I knew I had some figs coming my way from the tree in my mom's backyard.  Sure enough, on my way home from the island she called to tell me that there were four quarts of figs in her refrigerator that needed to be used as soon as possible.  
These figs are from my mom's tree.  We are not sure of the exact variety. 
The figs are covered in sugar and chilled overnight before making the preserves.
When I got the figs home (and ate my fair share of them) I knew what to make.  These preserves are fragrant and delicious and go well with biscuits or toast.  They can also be used to make fig newtons (more on those to come) and moist fig cake.  And most of all, they remind me of summer afternoons spent picking figs and savoring every bite.  

Finished Fig Preserves
Old-Fashioned Fig Preserves-  makes 5-6 half-pint jars
These preserves do require a little time as do other jam-like products that do not contain pectin.  Once the figs are tender and translucent, the syrup will be cooked alone until it sets up on a cold plate and no water seeps around the edges of the "mound" or it coats the back of a spoon and will hold a clean line when you run your finger through it.  I test mine with a cold plate (and a finger run through it), and this is what it looks like when it is ready.  It will be similar to the consistency of honey.
8 cups whole fresh figs, most any variety will do
2 cups granulated sugar
2 lemons, one sliced thin and one juiced
1/2 cup water
Place the figs, sugar, lemon slices, and lemon juice in a nonreactive pot and chill overnight. 
Prepare your canner, jars, lids, and rings.  Add the water to the fig mixture and bring to a boil over medium heat.  Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for about an hour until the figs are soft and translucent. 
Using a slotted spoon, remove the figs and lemon slices from the syrup and place them in a bowl, draining as much liquid back into the pot as possible. Set the figs aside and reheat the syrup to boiling.  Allow the syrup to simmer, uncovered, for anywhere between 15-30 minutes until it is thick.  Gel can be tested in several ways.  If the syrup will coat the back of a spoon and hold a clean line when a finger is drawn through it it is set.  It is also ready if a dollop is placed on a cold plate in the freezer and remains in a "mound" with no liquid seeping around the edges. 
Once the syrup is thick, return the figs to the syrup and heat just long enough to bring the mixture back to a boil.   
Ladle the hot preserves into hot, sterilized jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace.  Remove air bubbles and wipe the jar rims.  Place a lid and ring on each jar, and process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes.  Remove jars to a towel to cool for 24 hours before labeling and storing.  



  1. Hi Virginia - I love your blog and all of your recipes. I was wondering if I could contact you by email but can't seem to find a contact form or email address for you?

  2. Kadee...thanks for the nice comments. I thought my contact info was on my profile, but it may not be. You can email me at if you would like.

  3. I know this is well past a year after you posted this recipe, but I wanted to share my experience. I've made plenty jams and preserves before but never fig. I followed your recipe with Paradiso figs that were grown locally near me and it turned out to be AMAZING! Since they're a red variety inside the preserves took on this fun pink color after cooking. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Anne, so glad your fig preserves turned out well. I bet they are just as pretty to look at as to eat!