The Art of Fig Preserves

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with gardening. I love it when other people do it, I hate to do it myself. The main reason is that I’m terrible at it and have never had much success. There is one exception to the rule and it’s the only time I have fun in the garden. And truth be told, it’s hard to call it gardening. About 10 years ago I planted a fig tree.  It struggled the first few years and the root system was shallow.  It actually fell over a couple of times.  I staked it, babied it, and lo and behold it survived.  A couple of years later I planted a second one. These two trees are now healthy, huge and doing great. Every year in early June we are greeted by thousands of tiny figs fruiting and we anticipate a bumper crop. In a small way it signals the onslaught of summer in North Texas.  It’s something wonderful to look forward to even while we’re dreading the upcoming heat.

Mom & Russ with Washed Figs

This was a great year and we’ve already collected over 50 pounds of figs.

Now, what do you do with so many figs? Well, one thing is that you give them away by letting family and friends come over to pick. The thing I like to do with mine is broil them with a little goat cheese on top of them. So, I freeze as many as I can, and unpack them little by little throughout the year.

                                                         The third thing I like to do with figs is to can fig preserves with my Mom. They are the perfect fruit for making preserves, and it’s a great treat to spread on some whole-wheat bread for breakfast throughout the year.

I grew up eating fig preserves that my mother made, and we occasionally plan a summer afternoon to get together and cook up and can some fig preserves. There are really only two ingredients for our fig preserves: figs and sugar. Lots of figs and as much sugar as necessary. No vanilla, or cloves, or ginger for us. Just figs and sugar.

Mom Cutting Stems

The first job is to pick the figs. This year Mom came over and picked about ten pounds, that’s actually a lot of work. Plus, Terri donated about 3 pounds to our effort that she had picked. (Mine all go in the freezer to make broiled figs & goat cheese breakfasts!).   Next, cut off all the stems, and then wash the figs.

Figs and Sugar in the Pot

The real art is in the amount of sugar to add to the figs. They are naturally very sweet, so they don’t need as much sugar as when making preserves with tart fruit like blackberries, or even peaches. We added about half as much sugar as figs. For every 4 cups of figs added to the pot cover with 2 cups of sugar.

Russ Pouring Preserves

Put the pots of figs and sugar on a low flame. As the sugar heats up it turns into syrup and begins to cook the figs.

Let them simmer on a very low boil for about an hour, stirring every 5 minutes or so. Then the figs will have all turned a gorgeous amber brown. Boil the jars and lids. Retrieve them from the boiling water carefully with some tongs. It’s very handy to have a Pyrex 2-cup measuring cup to dip into the hot fig preserves and pour into the hot jars.

 Carefully clean off the jar tops, screw on the lids and caps tightly. From beginning to end it takes about 4 to 5 hours. That does not include the time it takes to pick the figs. When it’s all said and done, there is usually half a jar left over that isn’t worth putting a lid on, so we make some toast and happily finish them off as our reward. 

Bountiful Harvest!

The Art of Chow-Chow

Terri Slicing Green Tomatoes

Chuck is my father-in-law and lives in Northwest Arkansas with his wife Marian. He’s an amazing cook and I’ve enjoyed countless fantastic meals made by him. One of my favorite accompaniments that he makes is chow-chow.

For folks unfamiliar with chow-chow, it’s the southern version of green tomato relish, and Chuck’s version is very southern and very spicy. We add it to all kinds of bean dishes, chili, and anything at all that needs a little spicing up.  We spent most of this last weekend together and Chuck was so gracious to share his chow-chow legacy with Terri and me. We really wanted to know how it was made. So, he sent the list of ingredients and we brought as much as we could find. These included 2 large heads of cabbage, 50 jalapeno peppers, 6 onions, 8 green tomatoes, turmeric (raw or dried), mustard seed, and more.

Chuck at the Food Processor

Chuck makes the most amazing chow-chow of all time. I’ve been eating it so long (since I was 15) that you can say I’ve grown up with it. He patiently led Terri through every detailed step while I took notes and grabbed some pictures of the process. Here are the basic steps to making the best chow-chow on earth.

Terri Slicing Jalapenos

The most important ingredients include cabbage, firm green tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, various other hot yellow & orange peppers (for color), bell peppers, onions, turmeric, mustard seeds, and red wine vinegar. The hardest thing may be to find fresh green tomatoes. We checked out a number of places and they were just not available, even in early July. We finally found about a dozen, mostly green tomatoes at a well-stocked off-the-road vegetable stand. All the ingredients are necessary, and you definitely cannot make chow-chow without green tomatoes.

Veggies are chopped

Starting with the cabbage, they cut and food-processed all the vegetables and poured into a large port. Terri cut the vegetables in smaller portions and handed off to Chuck who worked the food processor. Once all the vegetables were sliced & diced, some picking salt was poured over the top. The mixture was covered and left overnight.

Chuck and Marian Tasting the Chow-Chow

The next morning, the salted veggies were thoroughly washed and strained. Then the red wine vinegar, sugar, turmeric and mustard seed were combined together in another pot and brought to a boil. The chopped veggies were then combined with the vinegar and spices and brought to a boil. The empty pint jars and lids were boiled in another pot. to sterilize.

Filling up the Jars

And then the hot chow-chow was spooned into the hot jars, sealed and tightened. From start to finish, it was about 6 hours for 2 people. We did the veggies Friday evening, and added the vinegar and spices on Saturday morning. The total output was 28 pints.

Chuck Tightens the Seals

This was truly an amazing time when Chuck passed on a bit of his legacy and I got to record the whole thing. Very cool. Thanks Terri & Chuck!