The season of harvest for our fig trees is about two weeks. This year was no exception. I canned my last batch of fig jam Tuesday and dated the labels 7/21/15. The jars show off the beautiful red figs, color enhanced by lemon juice. I look forward to giving them away at Christmas. But I look back with great joy on that first day of harvesting with my three grandchildren from Birmingham. It was their first time to help pick the figs.
When we approached our trees I saw the bees had beaten us to them. My heart fell. These children (William is eleven, Thomas is eight, and Mattie is six) would not want to get anywhere near the bees. But after I cautioned them to let the bees have any figs they wanted, they went right to work. Thomas went up a tree like a monkey to retrieve high fruit. William studiously picked figs that matched my instructions of what was ripe but not too ripe. And Mattie gleefully called out every time she picked one of the plump, warm, sticky figs.
They tried out the taste. “How do I peel it?” “Oh, just eat it–like an apple, peeling and all!” I didn’t get any “Ughs” but there were no rave comments either.
Someone discovered the next tree with the base of an old lawn recliner beside it. The chair made picking easier. Katydids commenced their rising and falling chorus in the pine trees. The morning sun blazed hotter. And the gnats began teasing around our eyes. Our bag felt weighty and abundant. I told the troops I thought we had enough figs for a batch of jam and they were off eagerly to see the goats.
Fig trees can make wonderful climbing trees. There was a time when our young son William (now father of these three) spent a great deal of his summer in the fig tree we had at that time. It was a fantastic tree with nice thick sloping limbs. The foliage was so thick he could hide up in the tree and survey the world through leafy peepholes. Seems to me he used a bucket and some string to pull valuables, such as peanut butter sandwiches, up to his perch. Fig leaves are so interesting with their harp-like shape, and they’re so generous in size, one can really imagine Adam and Eve covering themselves with them, although I’m quite sure they would be itchy.
We start watching tiny nubs of green figs develop in late April. Some years, like this one, we think we will have a huge crop, there are so many little baby nubs nestled amongst the leaves. But of course the birds–and the bees–have to take their part. One year our oldest granddaughter Amanda, about four then, having heard us talking day after day about when the figs would get ripe, asked this question. When, she wanted to know, would there be hogs on the tree.
Back at our house across town, we took time for a refreshing drink before starting the fig jam process. Then Mattie washed jars, William manned the blender, and I rinsed gently the very tender fruit. Thomas and William measured the sugar and there wasn’t much on the floor! Soon the jam pot was heating up. It is so much fun to place seals on jars and listen to them pop tight. But it was more fun this time doing it with my Birmingham Bunch!
Picking figs is a joyful thing. Especially with children’s voices circling the tree–exulting, arguing, bragging, complaining, and exclaiming. But as I write this I’m reminded of Habakkuk’s writing about having joy even when the fig crop failed. Think about these words: “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stall, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” Habakkuk 3:17-18
A Recipe for Fig Jam
5 c. prepared figs 1/2 c. lemon juice 1/2 c. water
1 box Sure Jell 1/2 tsp. butter 7 c. sugar
Gently rinse approximately three quarts of figs. These should be rosy with only little touches of green. They should be firm enough to handle without falling apart, but not hard. (Unripe fruit will float to the top of your jam.) It’s alright if some figs have a split in the bottom as long as they haven’t been attacked by creatures!
Measure sugar into a bowl and set aside. Wash jars in preparation and gather together tongs, a ladle, a long stirring spoon, a small bowl for holding foam skimmed off the top, soft towel and clean dishrag for handling hot jars and wiping rims of the jars. To heat jars, I put them on a cookie sheet and place in oven at 212. They’re ready when I need them. Lids and rings I place in a small pot of water and heat at back of stove.
Grind or mash by hand a few figs at a time to make five prepared cups of smoothie-looking slush. Immediately add lemon juice to retain color. Place in heavy six to eight quart pot. Add 1 box Sure Jell and stir over medium heat until dissolved. Add water and butter to all. The butter will help keep your jam from foaming as much as it might. Bring this mixture to full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Add sugar all at once and stir constantly.
When jam reaches a full boil and you cannot stir the bubbles down, cook for one full minute stirring constantly. Stirring constantly is a key to making jam!
Remove from heat. Skim foam off into your small bowl. Ladle beautiful red jam into hot jars and seal as directed. A milk jug top cut about four inches from mouth and turned upside down in your jar makes a very nice wide funnel.
This recipe makes ten half pints of jam.