Cooks Exchange

Fig season is here; try these tips to preserve them

Fig season is brief.
Fig season is brief. TNS

If it’s July, then it must be fig season. Those who grow fig trees say their trees are overloaded this year.

The birds around Lynette Faul’s home like the figs almost as much as she and her husband do.

“I don’t mind them eating a fig, but when they just peck at it that is a different story,” Faul said. “I try to wait until they ripen, but most of the time I have to pick them while still partially green to keep the birds from ruining them.”

Now, Naomi Coleman was not as pleased with hers as in years past.

“I didn’t get to fertilize my trees this year like I always do due to some health issues,” Coleman said. “The figs still taste good, but are smaller.”

Not only had picking figs kept these two women busy, but they also have been busy making preserves. Jars of thick brown fig preserves looked good sitting on Coleman’s kitchen counter.

“I made plain fig preserves, and I will do some strawberry fig preserves next,” Coleman said.

Another friend Jo Jeansonne brought a bag of fresh trimmed and washed figs to a cookout at her daughter-in-law’s. These figs, too, were small, but the taste was there. They were a nice addition to the grilled chicken kebabs and pasta salad meal.

My favorite way to eat the summer fruit is out of hand, and have been eating them like that since childhood. A breakfast treat is cut up figs with milk and a little sugar. Now, that is good summertime eating.

Jeansonne, who also had an abundance of figs, likes to wash and trim hers and put them in bags in the freezer.

Freezing the figs like Jeansonne does is great for home cooks who do not have time to make or can preserves. It also prevents the fruit from becoming sour.

When freezing fruit, make sure to select evenly ripe fruit. Fruit that has good flavor and color and at the peak ripeness is the best for freezing. Immature fruit, according to the old Mississippi State Extension Service pamphlet, “Freezing Fruits,” becomes pale and tasteless in the freezer and overripe fruit turns dark.

Freezing tips

Here are some other fruit freezing tips:

Wash fruit in cold water before hulling or paring. Wash a small amount at one time to prevent bruising. Don’t let fruit soak in water. Prepare as for serving. Use a stainless steel knife for paring or cutting. Work quickly. Slice fruit directly into the carton containing syrup or add sugar at once to the fruit.

Fruits packed with dry sugar or sugar syrup usually retain their color, flavor and texture better than those packed without sugar, also you can use the unsweetened pack method.

Ascorbic acid, vitamin C, is effective in preserving the color and flavor of fruit and adds nutritive value. A crystalline or powdered form of ascorbic acid is easier and better to use than tablets. Dissolve the ascorbic acid in a little cold water and add to the fruit or syrup.

Use a package that protects the quality of the fruit while in storage. Select the size container according to your planned use of the fruit.

Leave head space in the container.

Seal. Label with the name of the fruit; the date; the purpose for which the fruit is intended, such as pie, jam or dessert; and the amount of sugar used in the pack.

Freeze at once. Leave space between packages so air can circulate freely.

There are three methods to freezing fruit, the syrup pack, the sugar pack and the unsweetened pack.

I suggest the unsweetened method. I have some strawberries in the freezer that I’ve done that way, and they still taste great. I also did some figs that way earlier this week.

Syrup

For syrup pack, a 40-percent syrup is recommended for most fruits. Mild-flavored fruits, such as figs, are best when packed in a lighter syrup. Heavier syrup is needed for sour fruits. About 1/2 or 2/3 cup syrup is needed for each pint package of fruit.

For a 40 percent syrup, use 3 cups sugar and 4 cups of water to yield 5 1/2 cups syrup. Cool syrup to 70 degrees before using. Syrup may be made ahead of time and kept in the refrigerator. Cover the fruit with the syrup. A piece of crumpled parchment paper or other moisture-vapor resistant paper can be placed on top of the fruit before closing and sealing to help hold the fruit below the syrup level.

With the sugar pack, simply add 1 part sugar by weight to 4 parts fruit by weight. Mix fruit and sugar gently with a large spoon until the juice is drawn out and the sugar is dissolved. Pack the fruit and juice in a container and place the parchment paper on top before sealing to hold the fruit in the juice.

My preferred method is the unsweetened pack simply because I do not need the added sugar on fruit. Fruit, especially figs, is sweet enough without the extra sugar.

To prepare fruit with this method, pack the fruit into a container without liquid or sweetening to cover it with water containing ascorbic acid. The fruit may be crushed or sliced in its own juice without sweetening added. Press the fruit into the juice or water with a small piece of crumpled parchment paper. Close and seal the container.

Syrup for figs

For figs, the best methods are either the syrup pack, the unsweetened pack or crushed.

If the syrup pack is used, make a 35-percent syrup, which means using 2 1/2 cups sugar and 4 cups water. The yield will be 5 1/2 cups syrup. For a better product, add 3/4 teaspoon crystalline ascorbic acid or 1/2 cup lemon juice, seal and freeze.

For the unsweetened pack, place figs into containers, leaving head space. Cover with water, if desired. Add 3/4 teaspoon ascorbic acid to the water and leave head space. Seal and freeze.

Freeze by crushing

To freeze by crushing, simply prepare the figs either by leaving whole or slicing and crush them coarsely. With 1 quart (about 1 1/2 pounds) fruit, mix 2/3 cup sugar. Add 1/4 teaspoon crystalline ascorbic acid to each quart of fruit. Pack into containers, leave head space, seal and freeze.

I thought I would share a couple of preserve recipes today — one for figs and one for strawberry figs — that are easy to make. I only used 3/4 cup sugar for a gallon of figs, which is a low amount of sugar according to most recipes, but I found the preserves were still plenty sweet.

CRABMEAT AU GRATIN

Last week, Shirley Dedeaux asked for the crabmeat au gratin recipe from the old Angelo’s restaurant in Gulfport.

While rummaging through my files, I found the crabmeat au gratin recipe from Vrazel’s, which was located where the old Angelo’s was. I thought maybe Dedeaux would like to try it while we keep hunting for the Angelo’s version.

Several years ago, Jackie Crawford and Pamela S. Stone shared the recipe. Stone found hers in “Mississippi Coast Restaurants Post Katrina,” and Crawford found hers in “Feeding the Faithful: Cursillo Movement of South Mississippi,” which was published in 2010 or 2011.

FIG PRESERVES

1 gallon figs

Sugar, enough to cover figs in 4-quart pan (I used only 3/4 cup sugar)

Mash figs and stir in sugar. Place on stovetop and cook on low until all sugar is melted. Raise heat to boiling then reduce to simmer and cook until figs are translucent. This takes about 1 to 2 hours.

Place figs in prepared jars. If syrup is not thick enough, continue to cook until it is. Pour hot syrup over figs and seal jars or refrigerate.

HOW TO PREPARE JARS

Canning jars

Lids and rings

Bring a large pot filled with water to a boil. Place rings and lids in the boiling water. Before filling each jar, place in boiling water for a few minutes, remove from water and drain, place preserves in jar, wipe lip of jar to remove any spills. Remove one ring and one lid from water, dry, place lid on jar followed by the ring. Hand tighten and set aside. The jar will seal as it cools.

Charlotte Hadden from “Bel Aire Baptist Celebrates 50 Years”

STRAWBERRY FIG PRESERVES

6 cups figs, peeled, cut up

1 cup water

6 cups sugar

4 small boxes strawberry gelatin

Boil water and figs for 30 minutes. Add sugar and gelatin. Cook for 10-15 minutes or until thick. Pour into Mason jars or any glass jar and seal with paraffin.

From ‘First Presbyterian Church Cookbook’ in Orange, Texas

VRAZEL’S CRABMEAT AU GRATIN

1 pound crabmeat

6 ounces butter

6 ounces flour

1 quart half and half

1 egg yolk

1 1/2 cups medium diced onions, sautéed in 6 ounces butter)

Salt and pepper to taste

6 ounces Parmesan cheese

Melt butter and flour on medium heat, stirring for 5 minutes, but do not brown. Add half and half and bring to just a simmer. Turn heat off.

Place egg yolk in a bowl and add 3 to 4 ounces of hot cream sauce and mix well. Repeat this step with 3 to 4 more ounces of cream sauce. Add remaining cream sauce and blend well.

Adjust seasoning to taste with salt and pepper. Mix in onion and crabmeat. Place in a casserole dish and top with Parmesan cheese. Bake in 375-degree oven until lightly browned and bubbly. Serves 4.

Submitted by Pamela S. Stone and Jackie Crawford

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