It seems almost counterintuitive to make jam from figs, when a ripe fig is so jammy already.
If – however - you find yourself in a situation where you have more figs than you know what to do with, there is only one easy solution, and that solution is fig jam.
Here on the property where I rent my little apartment, we have a collection of fig trees lining the drive. The trees have been laden for the last 5 weeks, and when I haven’t been plucking and eating in passing I have finally got around to using up some of their abundant fruit.
Whilst a fresh, ripe fig (the green ones are best) torn in two and eaten just so is one of the most exquisite fruits, fig jam is not up there with my favourites. Figs lack the essential tartness and fragrance which make for the very best jams. It can’t compete with a loganberry, a blackcurrant, a raspberry or an apricot jam, but it does have one thing in its favour that the berries don’t - it works very well as a sort of chutney, or an accompaniment to savoury things, especially cheese.
Fig jam has an affinity with sharp blue cheeses, with salty chunks of pecorino, with fudgy parmesan, with creamy ricotta. It works with any and all of the cheeses you can think of, which is not something that could be said of strawberry, for example.
The flavour of a fig is hard to define, somewhere between freshly cut grass, rain, sap and sugar, and when eaten from the tree, their sun-warmed flesh collapsing in the mouth into seeds and syrup, they are truly ambrosial. Their flavour, captured in a jar of jam, is more musky and dark, more fig-roll, wet earth and store cupboards, a flavour which is as content on buttered toast as it is spooned alongside a slab of fresh ricotta. The colour is a deep, rich berry-wine, with flurries of seeds speckled throughout like stars in a clear night sky.
I tend to make all my jams using the following method. The fruit is macerated overnight (or for at least a few hours) with the sugar and some lemon juice, and then brought to a simmer the following day (or a few hours later). This initial maceration coaxes out the flavour of the fruit, and semi-cooks it too, meaning that by the time you come to cooking it the fruit pieces have already collapsed and are suspended in a clear syrup. The remaining cooking time is purely to reduce that syrup to a setting point, without losing the intense, fresh flavour of the fruit. I also leave all my jams on the slightly-runnier side, lower-sugar side as I like them like that.
To sterilise your jars: wash them well in hot soapy water, then place them on a tray in a low oven for 20 minutes. Remove and allow to cool.
Makes round 4 medium jars
1kg fresh, ripe figs, stalks removed and cut into quarters
1 large lemon
Wash the figs and remove the stalks. Cut them into quarters.
Place them, along with the sugar, in a large, deep, jam saucepan. Cut the lemon into quarters. Remove any pips with a knife. Squeeze the lemon wedges over the figs and sugar, then drop in the squeezed pieces too.
Stir the whole lot and cover. Leave in a cool place to macerate (preferably overnight, or at least for a few hours).
Remove the lemon pieces and discard.
Now bring the pan to a low boil. Place a saucer in the fridge.
Cook the jam at a low simmer for around 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Check the set by dribbling a little onto the cold saucer, waiting 10 seconds, and then pushing the dribble with your finger. If you see wrinkles form, then the jam will set.
If you have not reached setting point, continue to cook for another 20 minutes, then check again.
Pot the jam whilst still hot, seal the jars and enjoy.