This Little Figgy Went to Market

Figs.jpg
Sean Timberlake
Figs at the Knoll Farms stand at Ferry Plaza.
​In August I had the pleasure of being a pickle judge at the Eat Real Fest in Oakland. Seven of us tasted a wide array of pickles across a few categories. Of the ones that bubbled up to the top three, somewhat surprisingly, none were cucumber pickles. The top winner was a wonderfully peppery batch of nasturtium capers, second place was a piquant and tart Meyer lemon-pepper chutney, and third place went to a hauntingly sweet-tart pickled fig. I had just pickled some figs myself the day before; this was far superior to my inaugural effort.

I reached out to the fig pickler, and it turns out it was his first attempt, as well. Michael Dominic had tasted someone else's pickled figs at a party that week, and knew he could do it himself. He promptly scored a five-pound bag of figs from Ayear's Farm at the San Leandro farmers' market, researched some recipes online, and added his own flavor. The figs were pickled on Thursday, submitted on Friday, and he was named a winner on Sunday.

I love hearing stories about people so inspired by food that they are driven to attempt ― and conquer ― it themselves. Michael's victory was well deserved. He's graciously shared the recipe with us:

Michael Dominic's Pickled Figs
Yields 12 half-pint jars

5 pounds figs, ripe but firm
3 quarts water
2 teaspoons pickling salt
3 cups cider vinegar
3 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
3 cups granulated sugar
1-1/2 sticks Saigon cinnamon
12 thin lemon slices
1-1/2 teaspoons whole cloves

1. Bring figs, water, and salt to the boil in a large pot. Reduce heat, and allow to simmer 15-20 minutes. Drain figs.
2. In a second pot, combine the vinegar and sugars along with the cinnamon sticks, lemon slices, and cloves (tied in a spice bag and lightly smashed). Bring to the boil and stir until sugar is dissolved. Add the figs and cook them at a light simmer, uncovered, for one hour.
3. Place figs in sterilized canning jars and add a cooked lemon slice to each. Fill to the top with the hot liquid. Place the cap on the jar and tighten with the ring. Place in a water bath for 15 minutes.

Figs are definitely at or just beyond their fleeting peak, so get them while you can. They tend to be more expensive than most other fruit in season, but to my mind they're worth it. At the Knoll Farms stand at Ferry Plaza, figs retail for $6 per pound, but if you call ahead and special order, they'll take $9 off a full box of about nine pounds. You save a dollar a pound.

There are a few notable varieties: The pale green Kadota and yellow-green striped Candy Stripe figs tend toward an intense, sugary sweetness, whereas the darker Black Mission and Brown Turkey figs have a more complex, honeylike flavor with floral notes.

Figs preserve especially beautifully; heat and sugar greatly enhance their honey flavors. Rosy cooked some straight-up fig jam with nothing more than figs, lemon, sugar, and honey. Anna did a similar one, but took pains to rinse the figs with baking soda to remove any "fuzzies" on the outside.

Preserved figs play nicely with a variety of flavors. I recently punched up a batch with some fennel pollen I harvested atop a hill in Noe Valley. Julia also went with fennel, a flavor fig famously loves, but took it a step further with some vanilla. Wendy opted for balsamic and black pepper, a combination I personally adore with many fruit jams.

Fig can be an excellent complement to savory dishes, especially if you push the seasonings, such as Debby's fig chutney, also flavored with locally foraged fennel pollen.

Note: If you're canning fig preserves, it's important to note that, unlike most fruits, they are not a high-acid food, so must be acidified to be safely canned using the water bath method. As a rule of thumb, add one tablespoon of bottled lemon juice per pint.

Keep tabs on other fig preservation recipes as they come in at Punk Domestics.

Sean Timberlake is the founder of Punk Domestics, a content and community site for DIY food enthusiasts.
Follow SFoodie on Twitter: @sfoodie.

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