Monday, June 25, 2012

Gram’s Fig Preserves

When figs are in season, make this simple recipe for fresh fig preserves, and enjoy sweet figs all year long! Gram's fig preserves are great spread on a piece of buttered toast, spooned over pound cake or even baked into her special fig spice cake

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. Imagine!

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. More's the pity.

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 mostly did 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.

Gram’s Fig Preserves

It doesn't get any easier than this - just two ingredients - figs and sugar - in a two to one ratio, for a whole lot of wonderful.

Ingredients - to make two pint jars
2.2 pounds or 1 kg or 5 1/2 generous cups of fresh figs
2 3/4 cups or 620g sugar

Rinse the fresh figs well and discard the rinsing water. If your figs have hard stems, cut them off and discard.

Pour the sugar over the drained figs in a heavy-bottomed pot.

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 preserve jars and so should you.

After about the first half hour, when all the sugar has dissolved, 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.

2 half pint jars and 1 pint jar

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.

We bought the fresh figs at the Farmers’ Market on Main Street in New Iberia because Gram’s tree was hit by lightening a number of years ago and her replacement trees (planted with cuttings from my other grandmother’s tree!) are not producing yet. I’ve decided that the best thing I could do was to pack them up nicely and mail them on to her to enjoy. When you are 98 and 1/2, people should be making fig preserves for you. Don’t you agree?



  1. I didn't grow up eating fig preserves, but my husband did, and he has a soft spot for them to this day. I actually inherited quite a few of Granny and Mimi's cookbooks (I love old cookbooks) including a couple editions of 'River Road Recipes' and an old copy of 'Tiger Bait'. Love the Acadian French connection - when my boys were small I bought them a CD called 'Cajun for Kids' that introduced them to Acadian French phrases and songs. Such a shame that French was discouraged. Such a tremendous history!

  2. When you are from Louisiana, you have to like fig preserves. I think it's a rule. :)

    While we never learned Cajun French, our family vocabulary includes lots of words and phrases that we use instead of English because there just isn't an English equivalent.

  3. Wow, what a great post! I'm so glad that you Retweeted the corn cob idea so that I came over here and read all about your awesome grandmother. I am now going to share this post because I love it. "Sure--you know where the knives are." "Of course you can eat the baby aspirin!" I love your Gran Marguerite!

  4. Jenni Field (Pastry Chef) posted in Cookbook Junkies (a group I started on Facebook) about your wonderful post - and I had to come and see for myself! Loved your story and love your Gran.

  5. Oh, she's a character all right! She also thought that the Brach candy pick n mix bins were compensation if the store had long lines to check out. She'd get us all to help ourselves to one piece of candy each. (I miss those pick n mix bins. I wonder if any stores still have them.) And she would gun the engine and push her old Chevy up to unreasonable speeds so we could get a little airborne going over the railroad tracks in town, with all of us kids shouting, "Faster, Gram, faster!" You can see why we love her!

    Thank you for sharing my post, Jenni! And for your kind words.

  6. I love her even more, now! What fun it must've been to get to hang out with her, Stacy:) And I was happy to share your post. I shares what I likes! 8D

  7. Thank you, Jenny! I was delighted when Jenni shared my post, especially when she said "solid recipe technique." Best compliment I have ever received! Now I am off to look for Cookbook Junkies on Facebook because, My name is Stacy and I am a cookbook junkie.

  8. Your grandmother sounds awesome--And a lot like my grandma Myra. Very high-spirited and a lot of fun. :) To answer your question about the Brach's--My local grocery store just put a new one in a couple months. My son asks for a piece of candy every single time we go grocery shopping!

  9. Your grandma Myra and my Gram have a lot in common then. As for the Brach's, wish my local store had them too, Rachel. We would be helping ourselves if the lines were long. :)

  10. Loved reading this...especially for the evidence of your thievery from the estate!! It's great that you share these stories of Gram and have it documented before we can't remember. I laughed at the picture of the typical...all these years I thought it was a complex secret recipe. She always saved Pete a few jars for his Sunday biscuits...haven't had any for a few years; now i see he could do it himself if we had access to figs.
    Glad you like Tina...she is the perfect personality type to manage Gram...we got really lucky!

  11. Ah, the very cousin I was writing that parenthetical note for! We should write a book, Simone, on the things we got up to in childhood. Or maybe not. After all some of our children are still young enough to be influenced negatively. : )

    Pete could totally make these. Easy peasy.

    Tina is an absolute blessing! Your mom chose wisely.

  12. This is a great story. Thanks for posting it. I really love those fig preserves. Thanks to you I can give it a try on my own if I can find some figs nearby.

  13. Do figs not grow up north? I guess I never knew that. They are all over the farmers' markets in Houston this summer. The recipe could not be easier, could it?! You can totally do this, Pete. Let me know how it turns out, please.

  14. Very nice. I wish I would have had a taste before they were sent to Gram as there is nothing like "fresh" fig preserves. When Mo was cooking her fig preserves I would sneak a small cup out of the pot. Yummy!

  15. Sorry that you weren't there to sneak some, Mom! I would have happily shared. Gram did ask me if I had kept some when she called to say thank you. Give her and Tina a call and they can save you a half pint. Love you!


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