Figs are a good source of fruit sugars for energy. A small, fresh fig (1 1/2 inches in diameter) contains 30 calories; a medium fig has 37 calories. Figs are low in fat, saturated fat and sodium and are cholesterol-free. They are a good source of dietary fiber, natural sugars, iron, calcium and potassium. They have a laxative effect because of the roughage of the seedy fiber and a Proteolytic enzyme, ficin.
• Figs contain a natural proteolytic enzyme, ficin (this is why fig juice might irritate the skin).
• Gelatin salads will not set if raw figs are added because the natural enzyme, ficin, breaks down the gelatin (which is protein). Heat inactivates the enzyme.
• Ascorbic acid or a commercial color control mixture added to figs helps protect the color during storage.
Enjoy fresh figs while they last for eating “out-of-hand," as a morning eye-opener served chilled and sliced in a bowl with yogurt, in fruit salads, in homemade ice cream, and as a dessert or snack.
Figs freeze well with or without sugar, peeled or unpeeled. They should be fully ripe for best flavor. Wash ripe figs thoroughly, remove stems, peel if desired, leave whole or cut in half. Freeze with or without sugar syrup. Freeze figs firm-ripe and whole for making preserves later.
In syrup: Make syrup by dissolving 1 cup sugar in 2 cups water. Allow 1 cup syrup for each quart of figs. To keep fruit from darkening, stir ¾ teaspoon of crystalline ascorbic acid into each quart of syrup, or use a commercial ascorbic acid mixture according to instructions on label. Fill containers about ¼ full of syrup; pack fresh figs solidly in container. Cover with syrup, leaving 1 inch headspace. Crumple waxed paper and place on top of figs in headspace. This helps keep figs under syrup. Seal airtight. Freeze immediately; store at zero degrees F.
Without sugar: Sprinkle figs with ascorbic acid mixture dissolved in a little water. Place figs on a baking sheet; freeze quickly. Remove individually frozen figs and pack tightly in freezer bags or containers. Avoid air pockets between figs, if possible. Crumple waxed paper and place in headspace, or cover surface snugly with plastic film. Seal airtight and store in freezer at zero F.
Freezing for preserves: If you prefer to “clean” unpeeled figs before making preserves, bring figs to a boil in hot water, let stand 3 to 4 minutes, drain. Cool and freeze.
Simple methods of food preservation can help you enjoy figs all year long.
Grandma’s Fig Preserves
2 quarts peeled figs, 6 cups sugar
2 cups water; 1 lemon, sliced
Sort figs, using ripe figs but not cracked ones. Wash and peel with a sharp knife, wearing rubber gloves. Make heavy syrup of sugar and water in a large kettle. Stir and heat slowly until sugar is dissolved. Increase heat and bring to a boil 3 or 4 minutes. Add sliced lemon and peeled figs. Cook on medium heat (a good, but gentle boil) until clear and transparent, usually about 1½ hours. Do not stir; lift gently from bottom or shake pot. Fill sterilized jars with boiling figs and syrup to within ¼ inch of top. Wipe sealing edge clean and seal. Process in boiling water canner for 5 minutes. Peeling figs takes longer, but once you taste the beautiful, clear preserves, you will agree it’s worth the time. (Dr. Ruth Patrick’s recommendation.) If figs are not peeled, wash, drain and cook the same way. For a brighter color, clean figs by bringing to a boil in hot water. Let stand 3 minutes; drain, then add to boiling syrup. Using frozen figs: Place frozen figs in large kettle, add sugar and water and heat slowly until figs thaw. Add sliced lemon if desired, bring to a boil and cook as above.
3 quarts figs, 4 cups sugar
3 quarts boiling water, 1½ quarts water
2 lemons, thinly sliced (optional)
Pour 3 quarts boiling water over figs. Let stand 15 minutes. Drain and discard liquid. Rinse figs in cold water and drain. Prepare syrup by mixing sugar, 1½ quarts water and lemon. Boil rapidly 10 minutes. Skim syrup; remove and discard lemon slices. Drop figs carefully into the boiling hot syrup, a few at a time. Cook rapidly until figs are transparent. Remove figs and place in shallow pan. Boil syrup until thick, pour over figs and let stand 6 to 8 hours. Sterilize canning jars. Reheat figs and syrup to boiling. Pour hot preserves into hot jars, leaving ¼ inch headspace. Wipe rims of jars with a dampened clean paper towel; adjust two-piece metal canning lids. Process half-pints or pints in a boiling water canner for 5 minutes. Yield: About 10 half-pint jars.
Strawberry-flavored Fig Jam
When figs are very ripe, try this recipe for fig jam (strawberry or blackberry- flavored).
6 cups mashed figs (about 9 heaping cups, whole)
6 cups sugar
4 small packages (2 large) strawberry-flavored gelatin
½ lemon, sliced
Add sugar, gelatin and lemon to figs. Bring slowly to boil, and boil 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Fill sterilized jars to within 1/4 inch of top. Process in boiling water canner 5 minutes.