Fresh figs are some of the most fragile and fleeting fruits I’ve ever seen. One website suggested you have approximately 12 hours from the time you actually dislodge the fig from the tree before you lose control of it (i.e. it turns to mush).
My fresh figs had a lifespan of about 48 hours all together, but many of them didn’t have that much staying power. I ate them, styled them for photographs, shared them with my family, then hit the fig-wall: time to do *something* with the fresh figs before they liquified and ran out of the basket.
I had dreams of caramelizing them and canning the results: tidy, pint-sized rows of golden-brown goodness lining the shelves of my kitchen, waiting to be opened up and spooned out over fluffy buttered biscuits while snowflakes whirl outside the window…but that involved finding canning jars, prepping figs, and dealing with my mother’s hippopotamus-sized pressure cooker, which I always assume will explode, showering anyone in the vicinity with glass shrapnel and geysers of liquid hot “figma” (like magma, only made of figs and sugar).
Freezing, then, was the best option. This still requires prepping the figs, but has no real opportunity to register on the Richter scale of my imagination. (“Asheville locavore blows a gasket–literally–in freakish home-canning accident!”) The fig-related websites (there are more than you might think) suggest boiling figs in a simple syrup before freezing. Hmm…sounds like I should just make fig sauce (like apple sauce, obviously, but with figs) and freeze that. I could still have the buttered-biscuit-snowfall-fantasy, even though freezer containers are 1) not as attractive as canning jars, and 2) even if they were pretty, they’re still hidden in the freezer.
I begin sorting figs, slicing off the stem end and “fig butt” of all those that haven’t either burst their skins or grown cobwebby white mold whiskers. (A fig is really just a fragile little bag of juicy fructose waiting to become a science experiment–eek!) There are still a lot of usable figs, and the ones that scare me go into a separate bag for the neighbor’s hog Brutus. (I’ve seen how and what he eats; I don’t honestly think he’ll mind a few fig whiskers.)
Once all the figs are in the pot, I add a cup or so of orange juice, the juice of one lime, a half-cup or more of brown sugar, a tablespoon of cinnamon, a teaspoon of dried orange rind, and a shake-shake-shake of an orange liquer for good measure (or “innacurate measure,” if we’re being technical about it). I turn the burner to medium and wait, stirring occasionally.
A couple of hours (and some adjustments to sugar and cinnamon) later, I have a pot full of beautiful fig sauce, boiled down to caramel-thick perfection, with a million golden seeds catching the light. So good, so worthy, as it were, of buttered biscuits on a winter’s day. As soon as it cools, I’ll put it in sturdy storage containers and bury it in the permafrost zone of the freezer. Pure fig heaven, waiting to be resurrected from from the depths of its artificially Arctic interment to live again at the breakfast table!