Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Fig Jam with Fennel and Vanilla

Here in the Hudson Valley there are figs growing, but you have to really search them out. These local figs are usually in someone's backyard, attended to with care and dedication by a person who knows just how amazing a fresh fig can be. They usually have to be covered with burlap, or a rug, or newspapers over the long, cold winter. I'm planning on having my own tree one day, but at the moment I have to rely on other devoted fig lovers who might share the bounty. I was looking, but I didn't really expect to find figs this year. It was sort of a little joke I had with myself, that I'd look into someone's yard and see a fig tree. Amazingly, they popped up right under my nose! My local farm market/orchard had some for sale, organic, of course, right off of an aunt's tree. I only found out because I saw a lone price tag for them, but they were all gone.

"Some woman bought them all this morning!" the owner, Peter, said.

"Great," I said, "I'll be that next woman to buy all your figs." I left my number so that when they came in, I would take them all.

Once I came home with the bucket, I ate about ten of them. They were transformational. The perfect size, a fig filled your mouth, soft with some resistance, honeyed and sweet, with a lightly acidic finish. Man, they were good. Peter had asked me what I would do with them. I said I would make jam. He and his father seemed skeptical. "We only eat them fresh off the tree," they said. The older man seemed to think I was nuts to add sugar to these perfect fruits. Maybe they're right, I mused, as I ate my sixth or seventh fig.

But with a bucket of figs, what is one going to do? Eat them all on the spot, and possibly get sick, like a friend of mine once did at his mother's house in France? He had to be admitted to the hospital. (The skin of a fig has a latex-like milky substance in it that some people have allergic reactions to. Especially if you eat a bucket-full.)

I do believe that figs turn into something else when made into jam, and that their delicate, transformative flavor gets lost when cooked. But then you've got to eat that bucket-full pretty dang quick! Here's the jam I made with the bulk of my figs. The rest I ate fresh, out of hand, as they say.

Fig Jam with Fennel and Vanilla

I love figs with fennel and vanilla (see this recipe from last year using dried figs). I used a whole teaspoon in my original recipe, which I thought ended up being too much. I've reduced the amount to 1/2 teaspoon. There is apple pectin stock in here which you can exchange for water. I used it to up the body of the jam. Water is just fine, though you will have a slightly softer set.

2 pounds of fresh figs
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
3 cups of sugar
1/2 teaspoon of fennel seeds
1/2 cup apple pectin stock
lemon zest

Stem the figs and halve them. If they are large, quarter them. Put them in a pan with the rest of the ingredients and bring them to a boil. Let the mixture boil for about fifteen minutes, or when you think it has set to your liking. This will be a soft, or runny, jam, so don't expect it to set fully. Ladle it into hot jars and process for ten minutes.


  1. Oh how lucky you are, Julia - you are amazing at finding the best treasures out there. I want a fig tree too some day. I L.O.V.E. figs!! Thanks for sharing and enjoy...

  2. Thank you for the Fig recipe. I've got 28 cups of figs in the freezer to use up. One question about the recipe, where is the recipe for the Apple pectin stock?

  3. thank you for offering fig jam, what a lovely combination, fennel and vanilla. such naturals. out here, in oregon, figs are so plentiful, with quite a few varieties. we have an old tree in the yard. this year it is loaded with fruit. they are almost ripe and your fig jam will be a wonderful way to preserve the treasures.
    incidentally, you can grow your own tree, even in new york, very easily: cut a branch, about half inch thick and two feet long. bury three quarters in the ground, in a protected area, near your house, cover with mulch and by spring the twig will have rooted. doing several cuttings that way will allow you to have the best choice for your tree. it does take two to three years for the tree to fruit.
    thanks again, i love your blog and the effort you put forth.

  4. Oooh, jealous. I never, never find fresh figs; it may be because I never make it to the farmer's market before noon. :) And you know I'm all about the fennel right now! Sounds delicious.

    Figs aren't acidic, though, and I always worry about that; I know most fig preserves don't really call for a lot of added acid, although many of them call for a LOT of sugar. I've read that the sugar reduces the active water potential and hence keeps us safe from botulism... but how much sugar is enough? Not only do I need a pH meter I need a home bioassay botulism kit. I need to work on inventing that for the canning crowd.

  5. Oh yum. I'm visiting a friend in a few days who has a huge fig tree covered with fruit and she always gives me plenty to work with. The more you tell people what you want the more produce comes your way I find. And Kaela, can't wait to buy my bioassay botulism kit. Shall be writing to Santa this year and asking for one!

  6. Leesie - You are soo welcome! I'm pretty persistent when I'm trying to sniff things out!

    Vkmcgee - You know, I don't have a description in my blog. Guess I have to amend that! But there are numerous links to great techniques. Here are a few trusted canning folks:




    Michael - Lucky you! Now, all you have to do is send me a branch and I'll be all set! Ha, ha! Thanks for the compliments. Can't wait to hear how your jam comes out!

    Kaela - You know, I used a Ziedrich jam recipe as a guideline, which is a book I totally trust, and she doesn't even add lemon juice. Just to be safe, I decided to add it. That and the apple pectin, I thought would make this recipe safe on acid. But you are right, figs are low acid.
    Get to work on that invention!

  7. Gloria - It's so true. Put out the wishes for fruit, and it will come!

  8. julia, i'd be happy to do just that. send me your mailing address via my email: polymna@gmail.com.
    delighted to know there might be a fig tree attempt in esopus, new york.

  9. I asked Doris about this one on the Canning Across America site:

    which has no acid either and she said they went back & forth on it, but some people insisted that it was fine. I can buy the high sugar/low water argument, but I would never make that jam; WAY to sweet for Sugarphobe Kaela.

    Yes, must get on the handy-dandy Home Canners Botulism Test Kit. Now I wonder how they assay for it... hmmm.

  10. Michael - That's amazing! (See last comment.) I'll write...

    Kaela - Thanks for following up on that. I was really wondering about it. I didn't think it would hurt to add some lemon juice. I wonder what the thinking behind it is, that it's okay without added acidity, but then something like peaches gets lemon juice?

  11. omg. i love figs and fig jam. you are ever the fruit sleuth. i love it!

  12. That would be good with cheese and bread and pickles like a Ploughman's lunch. Did you make any chutney?

  13. That would be good with cheese and bread and pickles like a Ploughman's lunch. Did you make any chutney?

  14. Tigress - I was totally thinking of you! Wish I coulda sent you some!

    Peter - Indeed! I didn't make any chutney, and I am sad about that. I intended to. But I didn't have enough figs, and my first thought is always sugar. I'm so obvious.

  15. A perfect fresh fig is tough to beat, but fig jam with fennel and vanilla seems pretty darn good too. Nice idea!

  16. Hey Julia! This looks INCREDIBLE. I love all fig-ments of the imagination. Ha hah. Very inventive.

  17. Denise - Thanks! I don't know how I can go wrong with vanilla and fennel. It's SO good.

    Gen - Hey! I love bad puns like that! Ha! And, I wish I had some figs left to make your figs in booze! That looked figging good! (oops.)

  18. For the "someday i'll own a fig tree" people...trees are cheap and the Chicago Hardy is a good one for cold climates http://www.starkbros.com/products/fruit-trees/fig-trees/chicago-hardy-fig?gclid=CNfY-oKRxLkCFaZaMgodTjsA7g which is cold tolerant to at least Chicago.

    This year a friend here in St. Louis has propogated 250 trees from the one he bought 7 years ago. So order now from Stark and get cracking, you're not getting any younger. rob weaver