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Fig Preserves

Tuesday I got this message from my good friend Lori... "TONIGHT. We have figs! Let's make some jam." Though my parents are expert canners - putting up everything from pickles to salsa to jelly to stewed tomatoes to jam, and have done it my whole life - I never joined them. (Or not enough to have learned anything.) The only fig preserves I remember eating when I was younger were made by my paternal grandmother. I don't remember eating figs any other way, ever, except in a Fig Newton. So, I was very excited to take Lori up on her offer. And not only did we make it; we made it from figs that we had to pick first.
Lori picking figs from the tree she and her husband planted almost twenty years ago, now two doors down (and two stories high) from her current house in South Austin. 
Lori grew up in Hallettsville, the same town my mom grew up in. Her parents' house was in town, though they had land outside of town at Rabb Switch, Lori's mother's homestead, for cows and to have a larger patch of some crops, like potatoes. But at the house in town, Lori's parents tended a garden with all kinds of vegetables and several kinds of fruit trees, including a huge fig tree... big enough to climb in. The family ate the figs fresh, but her mother also made fig preserves.... lots of it apparently, because the kids loved it.

Fresh figs waiting to have the tough stems removed and be washed.
Though Lori used the word jam in her email invitation to me, what she really meant was confit - fruit cooked down to a jam-like consistency, but not preserved. The confit is still put in jars, but needs to be kept in the refrigerator and is for eating immediately. She used a recipe for preserves as a guide, but Lori was winging it. We started by washing the figs, some of which were plump and some of which had started to dry on the vine a bit. The recipe called for 14 1/2 cups which I assumed was an enormous amount, since I don't regularly pick fruit, but we actually picked 16 cups. It didn't even take long to do and it was probably 102 degrees outside, so I would have given up if it had. 

Figs, water, sugar and lemon juice boiling.
Fig Confit
From Lori Najvar, with guidance from a recipe for Fig Jam by Mrs. Frank Polasek in a Catholic Daughters cookbook put out by the Hallettsville chapter in the 1960s. 
16 cups figs
8 cups sugar or to taste
1 pint water
14 tablespoons lemon juice or to taste 
Remove tough stems from the figs and rinse them. Place the figs in a large pot with the sugar, lemon juice, and water and bring to a boil. Boil until soft enough to mash. Use a potato masher to mash and crush the fruit. Be very careful about boiling hot, splattering fig juice when you're mashing. Continue boiling until the mixture reaches a jam-like consistency.. Total boiling time is at least 1 1/2 hours. Let cool and ladle into jars. Store in the refrigerator and use as soon as you like.  
Other recipes in the Catholic Daughters cookbook (3 others) called for packets of strawberry or raspberry Jell-o, Sucaryl, and/or fresh peaches, too. Lori said her mother did use the Jell-o occasionally, which yielded a much redder, mock-strawberry jam out of the figs.
We started the boiling and then left the watching to Lori's husband, Glen, while we did a 45-minute hike on the greenbelt. This was not something that my older relatives would have done 50 years ago while they made jam, as they got plenty of exercise from life in general. 

Fig confit in a collection of jars and containers foraged from Lori's cabinets.


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