At long last, we’ve reached that point in the season when the figs have ripened! Last year, I struggled to save our figs from the chickens and ended up with only enough to make two pints of preserves. This year, thanks to some re-designing in the layout of our gardens, we had just enough spare fencing to protect the bush from the ravaging poultry and have put up six pints so far! (In all seriousness, I have to admit it really was hilarious watching the chickens try to jump up and get their beaks through the fence to the figs! But don’t feel badly for them, I was a good farmwife and threw some of the riper ones their way for a treat.)
I’m going to share with you my version of fig preserves, but as I am not a canning expert by any means, I feel it’s necessary to put a disclaimer here by way of the research I did on this. According to the Clemson Cooperative Extension, figs fall into the category of “low acid” with a pH of 4.9-5.0 so it’s necessary to add lemon juice to raise the acidity for safe water-bath canning. Here’s where it gets a little tricky for me…the recipe I used last year did NOT call for lemon juice. Now, did we not get food poisoning because we used those two little pints relatively quickly, or is there more to the story? I’ve done some research and here’s what I’m seeing…
1) Figs are low acid.
2) Accredited food safety experts say you must add lemon juice.
3) Emeril Lagasse, John Besh, Paula Deen, and probably a few more notable culinary professionals do not use lemon juice in their fig preserves.
It’s logical to believe that food safety experts really know what they’re talking about when it comes to canning and preserving. At the same time, I have a hard time believing that not one but several well-known people who make a living preparing food would put their name on recipes that could actually kill people. Who to believe??
And then there’s this guy. He’s been eating his mother’s non-lemoned figs most of his life with never a problem. More importantly, though, he had a food science friend of his actually test his canned figs and guess what? They were deemed safe because “the sugar content is high enough to decrease the ‘water activity’ enough so that the pathogenic bacteria cannot grow.”
So my take on it is this: Do what you believe necessary to ensure your family’s health and safety. My first pints of figs did not contain lemon juice and we were none the worse for wear. This year, I added lemon juice. It’s your call.
1 pound freshly picked, ripe figs, washed and stemmed
1 cup sugar
(You don’t have to do this in one-pound increments, but keep the fig/sugar ratio 1:1.)
In a stainless-steel pot or saucepan, combine figs and sugar over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally.
As the syrup begins to bubble gently, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 30 minutes.
While you’re waiting for your figs to start bubbling is a great time to get your water-bath canner going. You want to boil the jars and keep them hot until ready to be filled, and simmer the lids until ready to be placed on jars. (Sidenote: When I first started canning, I had a terrible time getting that magnetic wand to work for picking the lips up and out of simmering water, so my darling husband bought me a Norpro Canning Lid Rack. It’s relatively inexpensive and I highly recommend it for anyone that does any amount of canning.)
Fill hot jars with hot mixture to within 1/8-inch from the top. *If using lemon juice, add 1 1/2 tsp per pint before filling with preserves.
Wipe rim, place lid and seal ring to fingertip tightness. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes. After processing, remove jars from canner with your jar lifter and set on folded dishtowel on the counter to cool. Enjoy the ping of the lids sealing. (Mine all pinged within 5 minutes of removal from the water-bath, but you can give yours up to an hour. If you don’t get a ping, use preserves within a week, two max, keeping opened jars in the refrigerator.)
Like I said, these little jars of awesomeness don’t last long in my house so, depending on how much you have, you can either share with friends and loved ones or hoard them for yourself to enjoy all winter long. The choice is yours. Enjoy!