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Fig primetime

By By Carolyn Bivins
Based on the many phone calls I've received lately, it's prime time for picking figs. With all the abundance of fresh fruits, figs are often overlooked. But once you've tasted their distinctive sweetness in recipes, you'll find that the flavor is unforgettable.
Homemade fig preserves is a family favorite, made with whole figs simmered in syrup until plump and tender. Enjoy them on a hot buttered biscuit or toast, as a condiment year-round and also use them in a moist, spicy fig cake. Yum Yum!
Figs also add variety to the relish tray when served as pickled figs. Since the stems are left intact, they're a perfect finger food.
For dessert, bake fresh figs in a crusty cobbler, or spoon a generous serving of warm fig sauce over ice cream or pound cake.
Fresh figs are available now through early fall, ranging in color from greenish-yellow to purplish-brown, depending on variety; but get them quickly because they're going fast. When buying, select fruit that is soft to the touch and has a bright color characteristic of the particular variety. Be sure to check the aroma of the figs for any sign of sourness. Since figs spoil quickly after picking, store immediately in the refrigerator.
Here are some of the most favorite requested recipes for this time of year.
Strawberry Fig Preserves
3 cups figs, mashed
3 cups sugar
2 packages strawberry gelatin (3-ounce each or 1 family size)
Wash, peel, and mash figs. Add sugar and gelatin to mashed figs. Mix thoroughly. Bring to a boil for three minutes, stirring often. Fill hot jars immediately with fig mixture, leaving a 1/4-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Wipe jar rims and adjust lids. Process in water bath canner 5 minutes for pints.
Fig Preserves
1 1/2-quarts figs
6 cups boiling water
2 cups sugar
3 cups water
1 lemon, thinly sliced
Use firm, ripe figs. Wash figs. Place them in a large baking pan and cover with boiling water. Let them sit 15 minutes; then drain and rinse in cold water. Mix sugar and 3 cups water in a saucepan. Add lemon slices. Heat to boiling over high heat and boil 10 minutes to make a syrup. Remove from heat and quickly skim off foam. Remove lemon slices. Return to high heat and drop figs into syrup, a few at a time so syrup will continue to boil. Boil rapidly until figs are transparent. Remove figs and place them in a shallow pan. Continue boiling the syrup until it thick. Then pour syrup over figs and let them sit for 6 to 8 hours. Reheat figs and syrup to boiling. Fill hot jars with figs, leaving a 1/4-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Wipe jar rims and adjust lids. Process half-pints 5 minutes in a boiling water-bath canner.
Fig Pickles
4 quarts firm, ripe figs (about 30 medium)
5 cups sugar, divided
2 quarts water
2 cinnamon
1 tablespoon whole allspice
1 tablespoon whole cloves
3 cups vinegar
Peel figs. (If unpeeled are preferred, pour boiling water over figs and let stand until cool; drain). Add 3 cups sugar to water and cook until sugar dissolves. Add figs and cook slowly for 30 minutes. Add 2 cups sugar and vinegar. Tie spices in a cheesecloth bag; add to figs. Cook gently until figs are clear. Cover and let stand 12 to 24 hours in a cool place. Remove spice bag. Bring to a simmer; pack hot into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Adjust caps. Process pints and quarts 15 minutes in a boiling water bath canner. Yield about 8 pints.
Be sure to call (251) 867-7760 or come by our office for your free copy of the FIGS pamphlet. It has a variety of fig recipes listed inside.
Carolyn F. Bivins is the Regional Extension Agent in human nutrition, diet and health for Escambia County, Ala.