This is a hard post to write without getting maudlin but I will try. As my handful of Twitter followers and Facebook friends know, we spent last weekend in New Iberia, Louisiana with my aged grandmother. She is 98 1/2 years old which means (thanks to my friend, Jacky’s Gran, who started counting the year she was in at 93, rather than birthdays) she is in her 99th year. Pretty impressive, I think! My father and aunt have organized a lovely nurse/caretaker to come in Monday through Friday to care for her while my uncle, who lives with her, is off at work. On the evenings and weekends, he is in charge and is doing a good job. As we said to him, upon questions about the medications, he hasn’t killed her yet, so we figure he knows what he is doing. (Why he didn’t throw us out, I do not know.) Goodness knows, she has two different sets of pills, morning and evening, and if he can keep those straight, more power to him! We are grateful!
We arrived around 3:45 in the afternoon on Friday and her lovely nurse/caretaker, Tina, was still there to greet us. Bless her, then she stayed late just to make conversation and get to know us because her normal hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. She calls my grandmother Ms. Margaret. Her real name is Marguerite but throughout my childhood, her friends called her Mag or Maggie. On official records, her name is Margaret because when she started school back in 1919, French was forbidden and Marguerite would have been part of that prohibition. Her name was changed to Margaret to conform to the no-French rule. Both my maternal grandfather and my paternal grandmother did not learn English till they started school at six-years-old and the system and the teachers tried to stamp it out of them. The shame of that was that the next two generations of Acadiana French children were not allowed to speak their mother tongue at school and gradually it died out. (My grandparents’ generation still spoke it amongst themselves because it is hard to smother a child’s mother tongue.) I think my grandparents’ generation was the last to speak it fluently in Louisiana. I’ve been told that the public schools are teaching French again, but it is not the same. Shame.
Anyhoo, Tina got us talking about the character that my grandmother must have been when she was younger and telling stories on her. Oh, my goodness, the stories we could tell. Gram was the best grandmother ever. No was not in her vocabulary. “Gram, can we have some baby aspirin? (They tasted like orange Tic Tacs and we loved them.) The answer was “Sure. Help yourself.” “Gram, can we borrow your steak knives? We want to have a knife throwing contest in the yard.” - “You know where they are.” I don’t even remember her saying, “just be careful.” But, in fairness, possibly she did. And we lit bonfires, with permission – we did always ask, to our credit, and took group bubble baths and climbed trees, higher than was ever safe. And once we even took off walking to my other grandmother’s house a few miles away. Why? Who the heck remembers? Unsupervised much? Blissfully so.
While cooking in my grandmother’s kitchen this past weekend, I discovered a drawer full of her old cookbooks and asked if I might take them home to look through them more carefully. (Cousins reading this, please know that I WILL RETURN THEM.) You know that the woman who let us take her steak knives in the yard for a knife-throwing contest (which, by the way, ended up with a knife up in my foot and a tetanus shot for yours truly) did not tell me no. So I have a whole box of mostly cr*p cookbooks with the occasional gem in her handwriting, which is what I am looking for.
I discovered this one before we even left her kitchen. Written on the front of a Steen Syrup giveaway pamphlet in my grandmother's handwriting.
“Gram,” I said. “Is this your recipe for the fig preserves you always made?” “Yes,” she said. It couldn’t be more simple.
2 cups figs (I had 2.2 pounds or 1 kilo or 5.5 generous cups of fresh figs)
1 cup sugar (So I used 2 3/4 cups or 620g of sugar)
As you can see, there was none. So here is my best approximation. Rinse the fresh figs well and discard the rinsing water.
Put it on a medium flame, covered. You don't need to add water as this gets really juicy fairly quickly but that is a good thing. Cook for a while, perhaps half an hour, stirring very gently occasionally. You do not want the figs to break up. Gram always had whole figs in her preserved jars and so should you.
After about the first half hour, you can turn the heat up to medium high and take the lid off. Cook until the syrup reduces by at least half.
Meanwhile, sterilize your jars/lids by pouring boiling water in them. Then put one metal teaspoon in each jar. This will keep the jars from breaking when you pour the boiling hot preserves in them.
When I cooked this down, I got 2 whole pints of preserved figs out of 5 1/2 cups or 1 kilo of figs and 2 3/4 cups or 620g of sugar.
Using a jam jar funnel, divide the figs and boiling syrup evenly between the jars. Screw the lids on very tightly, with a dry towel and set them upside down. As they cool, a vacuum seal will form and the preserves will be safe to eat for several weeks.