There’s something sweet, sticky & full of hundreds of tiny seeds in season right now….. figs. Available from August through to October, these plump, pear shaped little fruits have a thin purple hued skin that encloses hundreds of tiny seeds in a succulent, fibrous red flesh.
Although the seeds contained within a fig aren’t actually seeds at all but they’re actually miniature fruits themselves, it’s this distinct texture that makes a fig stand out, it’s incredibly pleasing to eat (even though these little pips aren’t actually digested by us, they go straight through the gut, fun fact). Whilst the fig isn’t a juicy fruit, it is a very luscious one with a delicate aroma & sweet flavour.
Most of the figs we enjoy in the UK are imported from the Mediterranean & warmer climes but it’s believed that they were first cultivated in Egypt, with mentions of figs found in the Bible & other ancient texts. From there, they spread to Crete & Greece where they became a staple in traditional diets. The greeks loved their figs so much that they actually created laws that forbid the export of the best quality figs so that they could keep them for themselves (although based on the quality of imported goods in our supermarkets, I’m pretty sure this practice is quite prevalent across Europe still!).
Figs were also revered & thought of as a sacred fruit in ancient Rome. According to Roman mythology there was a wild fig tree (the Ficus Ruminalis) which stood near a small cave at the foot of the Palatine Hill which is where the makeshift cradle of Romulus & Remus landed on the banks of the Tiber. The tree stood near the temple of Rumina, a goddess who protected breasfeeding mothers & animals. Here the twin brothers, whose story unfolds the events which led to the founding of the city (spoiler: Romulus kills his brother), took shelter under the fig tree whilst being suckled by the she-wolf that rested there. This image has since become a symbol of the city of Rome.
Figs are still popular in Italy today & I can see why! During a recent trip spent travelling along the Eastern coast, by the time we reached the Puglia region I was amazed at just how many fig trees there were. It was September, just when the figs are perfectly ripened.
I’ll never forget wandering around the bright streets of Alberobello, there were figs growing on the side of the road & people had so many of them that there were baskets of figs outside of Trulli & homes, free for the taking by whomever wanted some. It’s for this reason & my love of the classic fig crostata (find my recipe here) that I will probably always associate the fruit with the country I’m most fond of.
Figs can be eaten fresh or dried, or they can be used to make thing’s such as a jam or the classic fig roll. Being a very delicate fruit, it doesn’t transport well & doesn’t keep for long once picked which in my eyes makes it a perfect contender for preserving.
Fig jam has a unique taste, one that lends well to both sweet & savoury uses. This rich, dense jam is an Italian favourite which is just as delicious spread on toast or dolloped onto pastries as it is eaten with hard cheeses & crusty breads.
- 1kg fresh figs, quartered
- 250ml water
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 500g granulated sugar
- Before beginning, place a small saucer into the freezer to chill
- Tip the figs, water & lemon juice into a maslin pan or large heavy bottomed saucepan
- Gently simmer over a low heat for 10-15 minutes until the figs have softened & begun to break down
- Use the back of your spoon to mash the figs a little once softened
- Add the sugar to the pan & increase to a medium-high tempterature
- Simmer the mixture for around 1hr 15 mins until the jam has thickened. Be sure to give it a stir every now & then to stop it from catching the bottom of the pan, particularly towards the end
- Test to see if setting point has been reached by placing a small drop of the jam onto the chilled saucer
- Push your finger through the jam & if the surface wrinkles slightly, it’s done. If not continue cooking for a further a few minutes & test again
- Leave the jam to cool for about 10 minutes
- Pot up into clean, sterilised jars & label
Check out my 12 step jam making guide for a little help with all things jam!