My husband likes figs, and, well, I don't. Big surprise, huh? However, I do like fig preserves. My mom has a rather large, very over-grown fig tree ("Brown Turkey") that my dad planted at their house a long time ago that produces abundantly every year. We didn't start picking from it until a couple of years ago because no one in the family liked figs. My first summer in this house we brought two massive bowlfuls home and proceeded to make-up a recipe. Last year, we did pick the figs but passed what produce Jesse didn't make himself sick eating on to his family. This year we've done a little of both.
Fig-picking is a bit dangerous-at least at this particular tree. I've never picked figs anywhere else so I don't know if the dangers are universal or not. First, and foremost, are the bugs. Mosquitoes love me. They love me more with fig sap on my hands. Yellow jackets and bees patrol the tree constantly looking for the next "ripe-to-bursting" fig. Ants scout all along the branches eating up every bit of fig left by the other fiends. I've learned quickly to look figs over well to avoid grabbing a hand full of pest. Second, and no less bothersome, are the briars. No matter how carefully you look and examine each branch, each step into the ivy covered ground, each movement, it is somehow impossible to miss the brairs completely. Despite the massive glossy green leaves and huge thorns that shout "warning, warning." The thorns that always result in the use of profanity and panicked phrases like "briar in the arm, briar in the arm" or (my husband's favorite) "briar in the crotch, briar in the crotch." Third is the sap itself. Like some sort of pioneer glue, you find yourself having to pry your fingers apart after a couple of particularly ripe figs. The sap glues your hands to the branches, other figs, briars, and, even, clothing.
Fig picking at this particular tree is definitely a two person job. The entire thing is so over-grown that picking from the higher branches usually involves one person pulling a branch lower so that the others person can pick it clean. For the figs that are super-high in the tree, Jesse will usually climb into the rather unsteady tree to glean the fruit from those out of reach branches. What he doesn't eat, he'll lob to me. Good thing I'm an excellent catch (every pun intended, by the way). The sight of him in the tree always brings to mind images of surfing because while the branches are strong enough to hold his weight, they are rather pliable and shift easily as he moves about and reaches for the little purple treasures.
Figs do not keep well for long. When you pick them, you have a day or so to use them. I have discovered that if you reach the "day or so" limit, the floating test seems to help you figure out which figs can still be used. Simply dump the figs into a sinkful of water. Those that float seem to still be good while those that sink should be composted. To make the preserves, I cut all the figs in half and put them in a pot on low heat with sugar,water, and lemon juice. After looking at an actual recipe, I use the 1/2 cup sugar to 1 cup of sliced fig ratio. The recipe called for a 1/4 cup of lemon juice and 3/4 cup water for 2 quarts of figs, and while I am sure the math is doable, I just added a healthy splash of lemon juice and a rather full 1/4 cup of water. Three hours later (still on super low heat), I had a pot full of beautiful plum colored liquid, which I realized later could have been turned into jelly. However, I used my handy-dandy immersion blender to puree the figs completely. 6 half pints and a water bath later, we have beautiful jars of fig preserves that now beckon for toast, bagels, jamcakes, and baked brie topping. Hopefully, with a little planning, we might even end up with some homemade fig newtons!