Food quote of note

"The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience"…Eleanor Roosevelt

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Beyond the Newton

So - all of the sudden - it's Fall!  How did it sneak up on me like that?  There were so many things I wanted to do this summer - you know, like lose 20 pounds and blog more often.  But - all of the sudden the days are getting shorter, there's a slight chill to the evening air,  pumpkins and squash are starting to fill the weekend Farmer's Markets and I'm ready to start making apple crisp, pumpkin pie and carrot cake.  Before I do, however, I need to catch up on a few blog posts that sat half-written at the end of summer while I focused on The Festival.  So, forgive me - I know we're all feellng autumnal, but I have a few last hurrahs of summer rattling around my DRAFT folder and want to share them with you before we dive headfirst into Fall.

I love the fruits of summer - berries, peaches, cherries - and, the odd-looking but delectable fig!  I must admit, growing up in the Great Midwest, I was shamefully ignorant about figs - after all, there weren't lots of fig trees in Akron, Ohio.  Back in the day, I had no idea what a fresh fig looked or tasted like.   Before I moved South, all I knew of figs was that they were the key ingredient for the  dark, dense and murky tasting inside of a Fig Newton -- man, I didn't know what I was missing!  I'll never forget the first time that one of my Clemson classmates reached up into a green large-leafed tree in his back yard and plucked a teardrop-shaped fruit off of a branch and popped it directly into his mouth...what was that thing?...and why was he smiling so much while he ate it?   But, once I tasted one, I got it - the mystery fruit was sweet and rich and lovely and oh-so-different than the dark brown goo in the middle of the Fig Newton - I was instantly bewitched and hooked. 
Figs come in many shapes and sizes - and, in late summer,
you can find them all throughout the South.  

A few years ago Guy got me a small fig tree for our yard - unfortunately, it's not big enough yet to fulfill my growing fig habit.  Fortunately, however, I do have lots of friends and neighbors with fig trees in their yards - and, they are willing to share!  Thanks to Rosie (actually, Rosie's neighbor - whose name I don't even know), Sue, Tony and the lady who lives behind my friend Susan in Greenville,  I had a large supply of figs this year.  I picked some myself and had help picking others - as you can see in the pictures below.  Although picking figs can be a fairly miserable task - very hot and sticky, after all, they do ripen in August in the South - I'm lucky that the promise of fig jam persuades my husband and most other men I know into helping with the fig harvest. 

My husband Guy is very focused and very efficient in his fig
picking -not really a surprise if you know Guy.

Lawrence DuBose, husband of my best friend Susan, helps pick figs
from one of their neighbors' trees. 

This variety of figs, Celeste, has a lovely brownish-purple color on the outside....

...and a lush, lovely and sweet pink inside.  Seriously - isn't that a beautiful color?

In addition to eating them fresh, one of my favorite things to do with figs is to make fig jam - a great way to remember one of summer's sweet treats all throughout the year.   Like most jams, this one is fairly simple to make - especially when  you have fresh, sweet, ripe fruit like I did. And, I'm pretty much a purist when it comes to fig jam - no fancy recipes, spices or mixtures - just figs, sugar, pectin (I use the low sugar kind) and some citrus juice and zest (I've used both lemon and orange and like them equally well - just depends on what I am in the mood for that day).   I've attached a link to my fig jam recipe:

This is actually one of my favorite sites for canning info and recipes - Pick Your Own - it's a great resource for canning, pickling and all other sorts of foodie info.  It's definitely one to bookmark. 

I love the beatiful, rich, dark pink color the Celeste figs impart to this jam.
(I hope you do too, since most of you will find a jar like this in your Christmas goodie bag!) 
Of course, fig jam is mighty tasty as a breakfast treat - try it on toast, an English muffin or a biscuit.  But, one of my favorite uses for this sweet pink spread is to pair it with goat cheese for a super easy and delicious appetizer.  Get the freshest, smoothest chevre you can find, spread it over crostini or a hearty wheat cracker, then place a dollop of fig jam on top of the chevre - the sweetness of the jam complements the salty tang of the goat cheese - a perfect match.  

So - like many of the lessons I learned since moving to the South - my introduction to the fig has been both interesting and enjoyable.  Now I know the real story of this beautiful and mysterious fruit - and it's so much more than the dark brown filling for a Fig Newton!

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