Friday, October 7, 2011

The fig tree

The yard was huge. It seemed endless in my eyes back then. It was paved with concrete and whenever I'd stumble and fall after being chased by D., I'd scratch my knees and they would bleed. I never cried, I was never afraid of blood, or pain.

It looked almost empty. There were some small, almost bare trees on the far end next to a large wooden table with rusted metal legs, and a couple of shrubs near the gate. Every time I'd walk past them, my dress would get caught on a branch and it would lightly prick my thigh.

In one corner, right opposite my bedroom window, the tree stood proud. Its leaves facing downwards every afternoon when the scorching sun would make them sizzle. Hidden underneath, the fruits. Some of them dark, dripping with juices and sweetness, and others still green, unripe.

She would pick them every now and then, when she had time or was feeling up to it, and she'd bring them into the kitchen. She'd rinse them and arrange them meticulously in a large, hand-painted, clay platter with their stems always facing upwards. It was for good luck, she'd say.

She would call us to come sit next to her and she'd lay a fruit on our hands. She'd also take one in hers and she would show us, slowly, how to peel it without tearing its skin. We were amazed by her ability to expose its flesh with such ease, almost effortlessly.

First, its milky white flesh would appear and from a single glance she could tell if the fruit would be worth eating. When she'd come across a bad one, she would throw it away into her apron, showing her dissatisfaction by grimacing in such a way that would make us burst into laughter.

Then, she would rip it in half to reveal its ruby red inner flesh and myriad of yellow seeds while we would jump out of our chairs, both of us eager to be the first one to grab a piece off her hand.

When our turn would come to peel our own, sap, juices and skins would go flying all around as we'd unwittingly pierce the fruits' flesh with our tiny fingers. Our giggles would be heard throughout the neighborhood, reaching all the way to the seashore.

We would eat them greedily, as if we realized from such a young age their ephemeral nature. Their sweetness would fill our mouths and we wouldn't be content until we ate one more, and then another, until she'd have to stop us, warning us that we'd end up with tummy aches.

Lying in my bed at night, with the moonlight reflecting on my crisp sheets, the taste of the fruit would be on my mind. As my eyes would close, I'd discover one more seed stuck between my teeth and I'd fall asleep smiling.

Homemade Fig Jam

This jam is the perfect way to say farewell to the year's fig season and preserve their unique flavor for months to come.

The vanilla complements and elevates the taste of the figs and it gives the jam an incredible aroma.

Preparing this jam doesn't involve any complicated jam making skills and it is quite quick too.

I usually enjoy it for breakfast, smeared on a piece of bread along with some butter, or on top of a couple of spoonfuls of Greek yoghurt, but I absolutely love it served like this: slices of toasted (or not) bread with some slivers of pecorino Romano or Greek kefalotyri cheese and a dollop of fig jam on top. The perfect appetizer or snack.

Yield: about 1 liter (3 medium jars)

1 kg ripe figs (I used purple figs)
500 g sugar*
1 vanilla bean
60 ml freshly squeezed lemon juice (juice of 1 lemon)
Zest of 1 lemon

Special equipment: glass jars, potato masher (optional)

Rinse the figs well under running water. Cut their stem off and cut each fig into four or eight pieces, depending on the size of the figs. Add them to a large, deep, heavy-bottomed pan along with the sugar, lemon juice and zest. Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and, using the dull side of the knife, scrape the seeds out. Add them to the pan along with the bean.
Mix everything with a wooden spoon and allow the figs to macerate for 2 hours at room temperature, with the lid on, stirring occasionally. This process will soften the figs.

Next, put the pan over a low heat and cook, stirring continuously, until the sugar has dissolved. Take the potato masher or a large fork and mash the figs lightly. Turn heat up to high and boil rapidly for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Be careful not to burn the jam or turn it into glue. Keep an eye on it.
The fig skins must have softened by now. If not, boil a while longer, until they have.

You can check if the jam is ready by doing the following: put a small plate in the freezer for 5 minutes. Take it out and spoon a little of the jam on it. Leave to cool for 1 minute and then push the jam with your finger; the top should wrinkle. If not, boil a couple of minutes longer and test it again.

Keep in mind that as the jam cools, it will become thicker.

Once the jam is ready, you may gently mash the fruit with the potato masher or a fork for a smoother texture, or leave it as is. I mashed mine and was left with smallish skin pieces.

You can either discard the vanilla bean or you can add it to the jar along with the jam. It goes without saying that the second option is preferable.

Allow the jam to cool for 30 minutes, empty it into sterilized jars and turn the jars upside down. Once the jam has cooled completely, put the jars in the refrigerator.
The jam will keep for several weeks in the fridge.

If you want to store or preserve the jam, take a hot sterilized glass jar—making sure you're not touching the inside of the jar—and fill it with the still piping hot jam. Secure the lid tightly and put the jar in a cool, dry place for storage. (Read here on how to sterilize glass jars).
You may keep an unopened sterilized jar of this jam in a dark and cool place for up to a year. Once you open a jar, you have to immediately refrigerate it.

*If the figs you're using are very ripe and intensely sweet then you might want to add less sugar (about 450 g).


  1. Such a beautiful and evocative post. I love figs and the jam looks sensational.

  2. I felt like I was there with you, a child myself, in the kitchen munching on figs.
    My favorite fig memory was eating them outside an open market in Barcelona, eating them outside with my husband.

    This jam looks luscious. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  3. Beautifully written and a lovely portrayal of your childhood. I didn't experience figs until i was in my 20's and the smell of fig trees is almost other-worldly.

  4. Oh boy does that jam look luscious and sweet!

  5. When I moved to my cottage there were already two old fig trees.Iplanted a new one very small but last year it gave me already 7 figs ;)
    So i make fig jam,i dry some i eat them fresh with grilled goats cheese i give some away..figelicous :)

  6. Oh how I wish I had a fig tree! This reminds me of a long-ago semester in Provence. We would pick figs from the tree outside our door, warm from the sunshine and so sweet. Your photos are so beautiful, I can almost taste the jam!

  7. Love these recollections and i have never met a fig that i liked here in the US that was storebought; figs to me must be from a garden nearby. this jam looks great and simple and a classic.

  8. I love your reminisdence, Magda! I remember my first fresh fig, warm and intensely flavored by the sun. It came from a crate at the Ferry Market in San Francisco (before it got fancy). I felt as if I had just tasted heaven! Thank you for taking me back - for reminding me of the delight I found in a fresh fig. (And for your fig jam recipe!)

  9. El — thank you!

    lauren — what a wonderful memory, eating figs in Barcelona. Such a beautiful city!

    Nicole — to me, that smell of figs is so familiar. There's just nothing like it!

    Belinda — and it is! :)

    Dzoli — isn't it fantastic? Having your own fig tree? Figelicious indeed :)

    Sarah — Provence, that must have been a wonderful experience!

    tasteofbeirut — store bought figs are nothing like the ones picked from your own tree, I know. But, what can you do, huh?

    Cocoa and Lavender — oh another beautiful memory. Figs taste like heaven!

    Thank you so much everyone for sharing your own memories with figs!

  10. I just received a jar of homemade fig jam of my Mom and I must say that it tastes extraordinary!

  11. This is one of the most beautifully done food blog entries I have ever encountered. Everything about it is divine from the story to the photos to the finished product. I always so enjoy what you are up to. Very big thanks.

  12. Fig jam! That looks awesome. It is my tradition to make a batch every year when my in-laws still lived in their old house. They had a big fig tree then. Now I can only wait for my own to grow.

  13. This was beautiful. Perfect in every way.

  14. That sounds like the Greek childhood of lovely. I love figs and fig jam. It is just that when I buy them, they never last long enough to make jam. I should have had this recipe last summer in Mallorca, where we had fig trees outside of our window.

  15. I have type 2 diabetes. Can I substitute splenda or something similar for the sugar?

  16. Hi Yolanda. I'm really not sure. I have never made jam with anything other than sugar. Perhaps one of my readers can chime in if they know the answer to that or you can do a search on the internet. I'm sure you'll find something.

  17. You are making me crave fig jam if just to put it on the toast and cheese like you did!

  18. Beautiful fig jam! Can't wait for our fig season to try it.

  19. Yummy.....though the process is bit long but i love it....

  20. What a beautiful, evocative description of your fig tree and your youth! I wish I had a fig tree but alas my parents never ate them. I make up for them by eating plenty now ;)

  21. i like your food pictures and want to invite you to share them on

  22. Love your fig jam. I always remove the skin but next time shall try it with skin on. Fig jam is one of my favourites and this year I've missed making jams and fruit preserves because of my diet.

  23. Hi Magda, I so loved reading your story. There is just something special about figs that is unlike any other fruit for the images that they conjure, or feelings that they elicit. I've never added vanilla to my fig jam, (lemon, yes!) so I will have to try that next figgy time. wonderful post.

  24. Such a beautiful piece of writing and such beautiful photos to boot. Fig jam drizzled over sheep yogurt panna cottas is one of my favourite, favourite desserts.

  25. Fig jam, kefalotyri and some fresh from the fourno bread is pure 200% heaven. LOVES! Can you send some to Portland, OR parakalw; ;-)

  26. Magda you have become our family tselementes :)
    Excellent work !!!!!!

    Just a quickie plz though....
    whats the difference (if any ) between kritharaki and manestra ?????

    By the way figs (called in Greek σύκο) where used to feed the animals before eating them to make them taste better.
    From there originates the Greek world for liver (συκώτι).

    Of course there is a different use of the name of a sexual nature, which i think the italians also use but this is a family blog :)

  27. Βρε βρε καλώς τον! Ευχαριστώ! :)
    Χμμ, το ίδιο είναι. Το κριθαράκι λέγεται μανέστρα όταν χρησιμοποιείται σε σούπες ή γενικά σε φαγητά κατσαρόλας.
    Πςςςς μ' εστειλες με το συκο-συκώτι!
    Πολλά φιλιά στην οικογένεια!! :)

  28. This was delicious! I canned 6 jars of it. If I get my hands on any more figs I'm making more!

  29. Thanks for your posting it looks so delicious.