Homemade fig jam without pectin: sweet and succulent. A perfect pairing with toast, prosciutto, and cheeses. Equally elegant on a charcuterie board as it is on a warm slice of bread.
If fresh figs are like your first kiss…
(That moment you lightly shook when your lips first met. Your head moved away for an instant. Teeth scratched the bottom lip under the radar. Stomach butterflies threatened to stop your breathing.)
And your mouth was at once innocently green and purple, plump from excitement…
Then homemade fig jam is the confident, natural, seasoned kiss.
(Teeth still scratch the bottom lip under the radar. Butterflies are still there, threatening to stop your breathing. But your head moves right in at the moment of recognition.)
The same recipe, yet it’s yours now. You perfected it through the years.
That’s exactly like our fig jam today. Seasoned. Subtle. Perfected.
We used figs, lemon and sugar. Not much more. What we got is one decadent preserve. Minimalistic and immaculate homemade fig jam without pectin.
WHAT ARE FIGS GOOD FOR?
Relatives to the mulberry, figs arrived to the Balkans from Turkey. They’ve nourished people in low deserts for centuries, and graced our earliest myths. If there was a story to be told, our ancestors recounted in under the deep shade of a fig tree.
What aren’t figs good for?
Consume them fresh, make a fruit salad or add them to a meza platter. Or you can make fig homemade jams, preserves, or candy.
Figs better-baked desserts. Baked or fresh they adorn tops of cakes and tarts drawing in both the eye and tongue with perfect shape and maroon insides.
(We used dried figs before for our no-bake rum fig truffles. Remember?)
Romans bathed them in honey for longer preservation. Its sap is widely used in the meat industry. Like dates, they can be dried and kept for a long time; like dates, they pack on a lot of nutrition.
In these parts, figs are a part of every naturopath’s arsenal.
Some say smooth fig sap removes warts. (Sap is smeared on the wart once daily for several days.) The claim was taken seriously enough by a researcher who indeed found it beneficial when used for longer periods.
Others treat feet corn by placing a sliced half of a fresh fig directly onto corn several nights in a row.
(A quick tip! A relative allergic to honey complained he hated figs for years. They were “too honey-ish.” It turns out people allergic to honey tend to also have a fig allergy too. So check!)
FIGS IN THE BALKANS
If you find yourself near the Adriatic part of the Balkans (Croatia, Montenegro, etc.), you’ll notice most natives have at least one or two fig trees in their back yard. Strike up a conversation and you’re in for a story about a grandfather who keeps a shoebox full of dried figs stuffed with nuts.
Large fig production in the Balkans today is done on fig plantations. Harvest success depends on moisture and warmth. Although they prefer dry areas (as long as their roots can go deep in the ground to get the water during drier periods), figs they do require some moisture.
(Space also; the crop is several feet high and wide.)
They’re a strong, long-living plant. At 70, they outlive some of their owners. What makes figs a great crop for this region is their resistibility to the omnipresent parasitic Capnodis beetle, which also removes the need for pesticides.
Some figs are harvested once during a season. Some a couple of times more (first in June, then late August). Droughts impact the harvest, but the year following the drought usually yields a crop that brings in higher profits.
It is nature’s way of balancing scales.
Spanish conquerors brought it to the Americas; although I read somewhere that a Croatian man brought the fig to California at the beginning of the 20th century.
AN INVERTED FLOWER WE KNOW AS FIG
What you envision as a fruit, in reality, is an inverted flower, pollinated by wasps.
Does this surprise you? Me too.
I ate a thousand figs not knowing there was once a wasp inside.
Not to worry, the enzymes absorb it completely before the fig ripens. And the crunchiness you hear as you bite it? Just the seeds.
So how does fig pollination work?
A female wasp enters a male fig (you’ll recognize male figs by the rough skin and holes – we don’t eat those), and lays her eggs inside, later dying. Larvae grow and turn into new wasps. Young wasps mate.
Male wasps dig tunnels to leave the fig and break their wings in the process. Once on the outside, they also die.
Female wasps go through the tunnels dug by male wasps, picking up pollen on the way. They enter other figs and lose their own wings, trapping themselves inside.
If the fig they entered is male, they lay eggs inside and the process repeats.
If they enter a female fig, wasps pollinate it and die. An enzyme called ficin breaks the wasp down, while the plant blooms. By the time the fig develops there are no signs that this inverted flower once held an insect inside.
A fun fact – each fig species has its own wasp. These pairs have adjusted and developed for each other over centuries.
HOMEMADE FIG JAM TIPS AND TECHNIQUES
FIND THE RIGHT FIGS!
To make good homemade fig jam, you first need good figs. (Tip: it’s not natural for a fig to be the size of an apple.) They’re smaller and range in color from green to purple. When ripe, they range from tender to very soft.
Figs used for jam also should be ripe, but not too ripe. Figs that are too ripe (insides oozing out), make for a bitter jam.
MARINATE IN LEMON!
To make the jam, you’ll quarter the figs and marinate them in lemon. (There is no need to remove the skin as it’s completely edible when the fig is ripe.) Marinated figs are thrown into simple syrup, simmered for up to an hour (optionally blended), and then jarred.
TO BLEND OR NOT TO BLEND?
You can blend partially or not at all, it’s all a matter of your preference.
SUGAR, YAY OR NAY?
As figs are sweet already, I use a minimal amount of sugar in this jam. I continually cut it down to test the right amount. While less sugar is always better, I would warn against using none.
When cooked, there is a fine line between sweet and bitter fig taste. Sugar prevents bitterness.
I get that it can be disturbing to see sometimes. Sugar is so blatant. Packaged food we buy from the store is laden with sugar, but that sugar is invisible. Seeing sugar go into food makes it worse somehow.
It helps to keep in mind during the time of our grandmothers (when jams gained popularity), sugar was not all-encompassing like it is today. People ate one or two slices of bread with jam and that was it for their daily sugar fix.
While a spoonful or two of fig jam are great, this jam is not something to gorge on. In short, if you approach sugar with the old school philosophy that a little goes a long way you’ll keep your health and waist-size intact.
(If you make a sugarless fig jam, or make it with different sweeteners, let us know.)
SPICES AND NUTS OH MY!
To spice it up, you’re welcome to use cinnamon or ginger in your fig jam.
But please don’t do both at the same time!
Taste-wise figs are very specifically figs. One spice will expand this taste and make it richer. Two spices at the same time will make it into an inedible mess.
Spice or no spice, throwing in some chopped nuts in your homemade fig jam is always a fantastic idea. Which nuts should you put in your jam? Walnuts, cashews, almonds, and hazelnuts would be our top choices.
As with spices, choose one type of nut to add at any one time.
Homemade Fig Jam
Homemade fig jam: sweet and succulent. A perfect pairing with toast, prosciutto, and cheeses. Equally elegant on a charcuterie board as it is on a warm slice of bread.
- 4.5 pounds fresh figs (stems removed, quartered)
- 1 lemon (juice only)
- 8 ounces water
- 10.5 ounces sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or a 60g bag of vanilla powder)
- 2 tablespoons rum extract
- (Optional) 3 ounces walnuts (minced)
- (Optional) 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- (Optional) 1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger
Transfer figs to a large bowl. Add lemon juice and stir to spread evenly. Cover and leave to marinate on room temperature for 45-60 minutes.
In a large pot bring sugar, vanilla extract, and water to a boil on high. Stir frequently with a wooden spoon. Add figs and lower temperatures. Stir again.
Simmer on low for 45-50 minutes. Stir frequently and thoroughly every 3-4 minutes. Remove any foam that forms on top.
Using a stick blender, carefully blend jam down to the desired consistency. Add rum and stir well. (Optional) If you’re using walnuts and ginger (or cinnamon) add now.
Simmer an additional 5 minutes or so. Check for doneness by making a line with your spatula on the bottom of the pot. Jam is done when it separates then connects again easily.
Heat oven to 390°F. About 20 minutes before the jam is done, wash and dry jars you’ll be using to store the jam in. Place them on a baking sheet and heat in the oven for 15 minutes. (This sterilizes them.)
Keeping your hands safe with a kitchen towel or a mitten, carefully transfer the jam into hot jars. Fill jars to the top. Using a teaspoon push the jam all the way down to get the air bubbles out, and add more jam if able. Close lids tightly and flip jars upside down for sealing.
When jars with fig jam have cooled down, flip them up and transfer to a cool, dark place (or fridge). Once you open a jar transfer to the fridge.
Always use kitchen towels and/ or mittens to protect your hands when handling hot jars.
Figs should be ripe (skin will slightly be breaking), but not overly ripe (skin completely squishy, insides oozing out), as overly ripe figs can be sour sometimes.
If you have a choice between a gas and an electric stovetop, cook jams on the electric stove for more control overheat.
If using optional seasonings, only do cinnamon or ginger at one time to prevent too strong of a taste. Walnuts can go with either seasoning.