Figs are among the Seven Species mentioned in the Torah, which explains why they are a prominent feature throughout Jewish tradition and writing, second only to grapes. They were the first fruit to be mentioned in the bible, their leaves making up the first articles of clothing donned by Adam and Eve… you know, that famous fig leaf bikini bottom we see in so many Renaissance paintings. It has been suggested that the tree in the Garden of Eden was a fig tree, rather than an apple tree (some say it also might have been a pomegranate tree). During biblical times, figs were a staple food and were pressed into cakes called “develah” and dried, or squeezed and boiled down into a thick syrup.
The fig tree is a descendant of the prehistoric wild caprifig tree, which originated in Western Asia. It was then cultivated in either Egypt or Arabia sometime between 4000 and 2700 BC and first appeared in the United States during the 16th Century. When the fig tree reached California in 1769, it had found its home in America. The variety first grown at a Franciscan mission in San Diego would later be known as the Black Mission variety we are familiar with today.
Fig trees have a typical lifespan of 50 to 90 years, though some may reach 200 years or more. Older varieties will produce up to 50 pounds of fruit twice a year. The summer season in Israel is marked by the time between the first and second harvests. Summer in my front yard officially starts when the first fruit blooms on my beautiful fig tree!
I had so many figs this year that I didn’t know what to do with them (great problem to have, I know!). I asked my Facebook friends, who gave me tons of terrific ideas. A few readers asked for a fig preserve recipe. This is the one I came up with. Making jam with figs is easy, and you don’t need any pectin to thicken it, since the fruit pulp naturally thickens as it cooks down. I gave this preserve an autumn flavor that is just perfect for the season– orange juice, dark brown sugar, and warm cozy spices give it a lovely essence. It would be a nice addition to a Sukkot, Thanksgiving or Hanukkah table. Spread these preserves on a piece of freshly baked challah… heaven!
- 2 lbs fresh figs, trimmed and cut into small pieces
- 3/4 cup dark brown sugar (or more to taste)
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- 6 allspice berries
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 2 cloves
- 1 small knob of fresh ginger, peeled
You will also need
- Large sauce pot, cheesecloth, twine
- Place allspice, cinnamon sticks, cloves and ginger in a square of cheesecloth and tie closed securely with a piece of twine (make sure it's tightly closed so your spices don't leak out!). Be sure that one end of the twine is long enough to tie around the handle of your pot. This will make it much easier to remove the spices from the hot preserves.
- In a large sauce pot, combine figs, brown sugar and orange juice. Add the spice bag to the pot, tying one end of the twine around the pot handle. Stir.
- Cook mixture at a medium simmer, stirring frequently, till the mixture thickens and groups of large shiny bubbles begin to appear on the surface, about 15 - 20 minutes.
- Remove spice bag and allow preserves to cool. Transfer to a jar or container and refrigerate. Preserves will last for about 2 weeks. Use a sterile canning process for longer shelf life.
Davidson, Alan (1999). Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford University Press, USA.
Marks, Gil (2010). Encyclopedia of Jewish Food. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, NJ.
Other Great Recipe Ideas
Simply Recipes: Gruyere, Apple and Fig Jam Panini
Brown Eyed Baker: Honey Fig Scones
Cooking on the Weekends: Fig Upside Down Coffee Cake
David Lebovitz: Fig Chutney