There’s nothing like the aroma wafting from a ripened fig tree during the peak of its harvest; this delightfully floral vanilla honey fig jam is the perfect way to capture that ethereal scent. This recipe is sweetened in part by honey which contributes aromatics as well as flavor and even helps to cut down on the white sugar content.
Why You Should Love Figs
If you’re anything like me, you’re an avid fig fan. Tender, sweet insides covered with soft skin are a flavorful burst of texture with each bite–a wonderful playground for the culinarily-inclined! Rich in fiber as well as calcium, phosphorus, iron, and potassium, figs are also a good source of prebiotics, which are essential for maintaining gut health. Though I think there is nothing better than digging into a perfectly ripe fig, they fortunately are fairly forgiving with different methods of processing and preserving, such as drying, making fig newtons from scratch, fig ice cream, or turning your figs into sweet fig chutney.
Where Are Figs From?
While the common fig hails from an area extending from Northern India to Asiatic Turkey, ficus carica also grows well in Mediterranean and and warm-climate areas.
The fig was one of the first fruit trees ever to be cultivated, at once so popular in the Mediterranean, it was called the “poor man’s food” because it was abundant and cheap, fresh or dried.
Nowadays, it’s not too altogether uncommon to walk down an urban street and see a neighborhood fig tree complete with broad, lobed leaves and its characteristically droopy fruit. When you break a fig from the tree or snap free a leaf, you may notice a viscous, white liquid emenating from the site of injury–this is, in fact, liquid latex. This is why some folks suggest boiling your green, unripe figs twice with fresh water to rinse away the milky substance–but that’s a blog post for another day!
How Figs are Pollinated
If you’ve ever spent any amount of time around vegans, you may have learned some or most of them don’t eat figs. But why? You may be thinking, Aren’t figs a fruit?
While you are correct in the assertion that figs are a fruit (and therefore should be vegan-friendly), figs have a tangled relationship with that of the wasp reproductive cycle. When figs aren’t self-pollinated (the method used in the United States to produce figs), unripe figs invite pollen-carrying female wasps into their ostiole, the small opening at the base of the fig. From there, the female wasp will lay her eggs amongst the unpollinated flowers, pollinating other flowers as she moves along. The female wasp then dies, and her exoskeleton breaks down within the fig thanks to an enzyme called ficin. Fortunately, this teeny-tiny lady wasp is only about 1 1/2 milimeters long–so if you take a bite out of a fig pollinated through mutualism, you may end up eating, in one way or another, the remains of the female wasp.
As for her eggs, these are concealed within the fig’s flowers; the males hatch first, going around and fertilizing any unhatched females, dig an escape tunnel to the outside world, and die. When the females hatch, it’s their turn to find a fig to die in. It’s one heck of a life cycle, yo.
Why Figs Aren’t Considered Vegan
Point being, some vegans think eating figs is unethical, or that it breaks the rules as you may be inadvertently eating animal with your fig. Weird? A little bit. Kinda gross? Definitely. Miraculous? Big yes. And it’s still not enough to keep this lunatic away from sweet, delicious figs…
For those of you that are now completely freaked out by figs, rest assured–most likely, any figs provided in the grocery store are going to be self-pollinated. That is to say, wasp-free!
So…Where Can I Buy Figs?
Figs tend to be elusive until the season is upon us, at which point they are EXPLOSIVE and you have to make use of the bounty quickly so it doesn’t all rot or go to waste. Figs enjoy two seasons: the first few weeks of June, then a second wave spanning August through October.
Check in with grocery retailers like Whole Foods or Publix to see if they carry figs during the peak weeks of summer. Otherwise, you may be lucky enough to find vendors selling sweet, sweet figs at a local farmer’s market. I hate to direct you to Amazon, but apparently you can even buy fresh figs there! Who knew?!
But the best way to get your figs and eat them too is to make friends with somebody who enjoys a fig tree on their property and has more figs than they know what to do with! I’m not saying you should scope out someone’s yard before introducing yourself, but I’m saying it wouldn’t hurt to make a new friend who happens to have a robust fig tree…edible trades are a lot of fun. 🙂
Another option is to plant your own fig tree. Yes, you will have to wait a while…maybe several summers…to have your figs, but then you have a legacy tree that just keeps giving. Once you’ve been bitten by the fresh fig bug, you will come to love this time of year–trust me!
How Many Different Kinds of Figs Are There?
Well, with over 700 known different kinds of fig trees, there’s quite a lot! To make it easier, botanists have broken figs into four groups:
- Caprifigs: These produce male flowers which never bear fruit; their primary function is to fertilize female fig trees.
- Smyrna: These are the female fig trees, which must be pollinated by caprifigs.
- San Pedro: These kinds of figs produce two crops: the first is on leafless mature wood and requires no pollination, and the second is on new wood requiring pollination from a male flower.
- Common Figs: These are the most common figs you might see while on a neighborhood walk. Common figs don’t require another tree for fertilization.
Now that we know our fig types, let’s talk about some common figs you may have seen growing lately. Here are some varietals you may be able to identify:
- Celeste figs–these are smaller, brownish-purple figs grown on large trees; these ripen earlier in the season than other figs
- Brown Turkey figs–medium-sized, plum-colored figs with vibrant pink flesh
- Alma figs–these large figs are brownish-purple teardrops with green tips and light pink insides
- Purple Genca–sometimes referred to as Black Spanish figs or Black Genoa figs, these large, dark purple beauties have vibrant red flesh
- Mission figs–also called Black Mission figs, this extremely popular varietal is medium-sized and has a mottled purple/green combination exterior
- Bourjassotte Gris figs–these large, purple figs with a green tip have a lush, dramatic purple flesh
For this fig jam recipe, I used Celeste figs–yum!
How To Tell When Figs Are Ripe
Some figs, like mission figs, will split when they are at their peak ripeness. Green figs, like kadota figs, can be slightly trickier to figure out, as they are green from their initial formation through their maturity.
Ripe figs should be soft to the touch and give slightly when squeezed. There should be little resistance when plucked from their tree or bush, without much white latex oozing from the tip. If you have to tug, the fig isn’t ready!
Will Figs Ripen Off the Tree?
The short answer is yes! Figs that are picked just before peak ripeness will continue to soften and grow sweeter if left in a dry place.
If you pick extremely unripe figs, however, they will not reach maturity on your countertop! This is part of the lovely, ethereal nature of this sweet natural treat.
How To Eat Your Abundance of Figs
When figs arrive, they arrive all at once! You will know a tree’s fruit is mature when all of the insects move in–figs attract a wide array of bees and wasps, which come to feed on the sweet fruit.
Here are some ideas for ways to use up your figs before they spoil:
- fig and prosciutto pizza with arugula
- add chopped figs to your morning oats
- slice up figs and add them to a salad
- grilled figs with marscapone and honey
- cardamom and fig cornmeal cake
- roasted fig ice cream
- balsamic fig reduction over steak
Small Batch Vanilla Honey Fig Jam
Part of the beauty of this recipe is how simple it is. With a few high-quality ingredients, you will be amazed at how much divinely aromatic flavor this wonderful, chunky fig jam presents.
Start with an abundance of ripe figs.
Gather your ingredients and a heavy-bottomed dutch oven. Chop the figs into quarters. I like a chunky jam, so I cut some of the figs in half for variety.
Cook the figs down gently, stirring so they don’t scald or cook unevenly.
When your fig jam has thickened considerably and passes the cold plate test, it should look something like this:
Ladle your warm jam into sterile jars. For a more detailed breakdown of how to properly can your jam, check out my post on canned small-batch apricot jam.
It’s a messy process, but made easier by my canning funnel which fits atop an empty jar perfectly.
You can totally reuse old jars to can your fig jam as long as you properly sterilize them beforehand in the oven or in boiling water for 10 minutes. I used the boiling method for this round of jam.
Boom, fig jam!
Ways To Eat Up Your Fig Jam
Sweet, complex, aromatic, and delightfully textured, there’s a lot to love about this fig jam. Fortunately, you can throw it into sweet and savory dishes to add high floral notes and a kiss of sweetness. Here are some easy ways to eat up your vanilla honey fig jam:
- stirred into whole milk yogurt
- spooned atop vanilla ice cream
- dolloped over seared pork chops or chicken breasts
- stirred into oats or porridge
- spread over toast with a layer of ricotta and sea salt
- bake it into pound cake, muffins, or cornbread
Get eating! 🙂
Small-Batch Vanilla Honey Fig Jam
- heavy bottomed dutch oven
- canning funnel
- 2 lbs ripe figs, halved and quartered (I used Celeste figs, but any ripe figs will do)
- 3/4 cup white sugar
- 1/2 cup local honey
- 2 lemons, juiced (seeds removed)
- 1 Tbs vanilla bean paste (or 1 1/2 vanilla beans, seeds scraped)
- Wash your figs and cut into quarters. I like a chunky jam, so I cut about 30% of my figs in half. Juice lemons, minding the seeds, and set juice aside. Place a small plate in the freezer.
- Place figs, sugar, honey, and lemon juice in a heavy-bottomed dutch oven over medium-high heat and bring ingredients to a boil, stirring until combined. (If using vanilla beans, add seeds and pods, taking care to remove the pods after the jam has cooked. If using vanilla bean paste, add now. If substituting vanilla extract, wait until the jam has thickened before adding.)
- Lower heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has thickened considerably (between 45 minutes and an hour). You will know your jam is ready to ladle into jars when a small drop of jam placed on the freezer plate wrinkles under your finger. (Dollop a small amount of jam onto the cold plate. Return to the freezer for a few minutes. Drag your finger through the jam--if it wrinkles, it's ready to can!)
- If canning for long-term storage, ladle jam into sterilized jars, lightly screwing lids onto your jars. Place in a large pot and completely cover with water, boiling for 10 minutes. Using tongs, remove jars from hot water and allow them to cool on your countertop. You should hear the "ping" of your jam jars sealing! When jars have cooled, tighten the lids and label. If any of your jars did not fully seal, try re-boiling them or replacing with different sterilized lids and repeating the process.
- If making quick-batch jam for short-term storage, simply ladle the hot jam into clean jars and place in the fridge. This fig jam keeps in the fridge up to 1 month once it's been opened.
This recipe based off the one found here, from Flavor the Moments!