Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Fruits of Summer

Kathryn LaSusa Yeomans is a Portland chef and active forager. In the case of figs, she doesn't have to scavenge any further than her back yard.

There was an expression at my grandmother’s house: “It’s hotter than hell, let’s make jelly!” Sure enough, the figs came on just as temperatures broke 100°.

I’m one of those Portlanders lucky enough to have fresh fruit trees producing in my yard—well, actually they’re in my neighbor’s yard, but hang over the fence within a ladder’s reach. We’d been invited to glean all we can, so each day, basket in hand, I’d set the ladder and select pale green figs, heavy with sweet nectar.

It is said in France that one should pick figs three times a day, plucking only the fruit that is perfectly ripe at that moment. Scrutinizing figs became a daily pastime. I’d carefully examine each specimen—too early and the immature flesh remains starchy, unable to ripen correctly, too late and the heavy fruit drops with a sticky splat to the ground, or joyfully nibbled right off the branches by squirrels and birds.

“No fair! You get the top half of the tree, I get the bottom, that’s the deal!” I’ve been known to say to the thieves, fist clenched at the treetops.

Plates of figs accumulated in my kitchen, and despite gorging ourselves on the luscious fruit, I had secured a bounty worthy of a batch of jam. Here is the recipe that I found. And don’t fret that you’ve missed the harvest – figs come on again. They tend to ripen in two flushes, one in the fervor of summer, the other in early fall. That means that even if you can’t take the heat, you can still have the fig jam.

Fig Jam
Adapted from Chez Panisse Fruit by Alice Waters

Makes about 3 cups

1 3/4 lbs. ripe figs (about 6 cups quartered)
3/4 c. granulated sugar
1 Tbsp. grated lemon zest
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. water

Cut the tough ends off the stems of the figs. Cut the figs in quarters and put them in a medium-sized saucepan with the granulated sugar, lemon zest, salt and water. Simmer 10 minutes, until the figs are soft and translucent.

Puree the fig mixture by passing it through a food mill and return it to the saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until it is a very thick paste. This can take anywhere from 15 minutes to half an hour or more, depending on how much moisture the figs contain. The jam can be eaten fresh, or spooned into sterilized jelly jars and sealed. Process pint jars in a boiling waterbath for 10 minutes.


dds said...

When I lived in Greece as a kid I'd sit on the shed roof for hours picking and eating figs, reading my book, picking and eating more figs. (Oh but the tummy aches in the height of the season!)

The storebought figs I've had here are such a disappointment. But that wonderful photo made me taste the figs of my childhood all over again.

Kathleen Bauer said...

What a great story. Thanks so much for sharing it!

B said...

i have been having them from my tree this year for the first time. Nothing like tree ripened fruit and as u said i do see another batch of figs on my tree...yummy