This summer I was treated to a storybook week in Santa Fe: beautiful meals, four delicious operas, and charming company. It was my first time in the city, and I was overwhelmed by the quality of the light, the vastness of the sky, and the lavender mountains at sunset. It was an unexpectedly beautiful place, and I fell in love with the desert. I also fell for pickled figs while there. At a pre-opera party one night, amongst a spread of albondigas with saffron sauce, marcona almonds, Iberico ham, and Drunken Goat cheese, the pickled mission figs were a standout. This week, when brown turkey figs reappeared in my market, I decided to play. We are enjoying Indian summer, meteorological technicalities aside, and the loveliest and warmest October in memory, so I decided that, despite the fact that this is my busiest season, and perhaps especially because it is, it was time to lift my head from work for an afternoon for a little cooking project and a little relaxation. I wondered if I could create a pickled fig that also had a candied quality. I think this worked! The skin of the figs has a candied, slightly toothsome chew, which gives way to the sweetness of the figs with a prick of vinegar and spice.
Brown turkey figs are pale green and ruby with a pink to light red interior. With the warmth of aromatic spices and the rosy hue they take on as they bob in balsamic syrup, they are a lovely summer sunset in a pan, and marry end-of-summer sweetness with impending fall. Enjoy some now, and pull out a jar when summer is a memory.
Any of the three versions below would be yummy with a wedge of manchego, a Spanish sheep’s milk cheese, or with a nice and creamy goat cheese; I’m especially partial to Cana de Cabera in the Bucheron style from Spain. A glass of lightly chilled Sauternes or a glass of oloroso sherry would be a happy pairing; my favorite is Lustau East India Solera. These figs would be nice slivered into an apple pie in the fall. And in the winter, they would be delicious warmed and spooned over crème fraiche or buttermilk ice cream—but I guess I’m the kind of person who eats ice cream in the wintertime!
Pickled and Candied Brown Turkey Figs
Yield: four small jars
32 ounces ripe but firm brown turkey figs
2 c. water, divided
2/3 c. white vinegar, divided
2/3 c. cider vinegar, divided
2/3 c. balsamic vinegar, divided
6 c. sugar, divided
cheesecloth or a coffee filter
2 cinnamon sticks
1 T whole cloves
2 T allspice berries
2 star anise
1 T pink peppercorns
Four small canning jars with screw bands and new lids
Jar lifter or tongs
Wide mouth canning funnel
Water bath canner or a large soup pot with lid
- In a large pan, stir together 3 c. sugar, 1/3 c. vinegar, 1/3 c. cider vinegar, 1/3 c. balsamic vinegar, and 1 c. water. Bring to a simmer.
- Put all of the spices into a piece of cheesecloth or a coffee filter, and tie securely into a bundle with string. Add to pan.
- Add clean figs to the pan and simmer gently for 30 minutes, or until the spiced balsamic syrup is reduced and thickened.
- Cover and rest 24 hours in the refrigerator.
- Remove from the refrigerator.
- In a medium pan, stir together 3 c. sugar, 1/3 c. vinegar, 1/3 c. cider vinegar, 1/3 c. balsamic vinegar, and 1 c. water. Bring to a simmer.
- Pour over figs and warm slowly to a simmer. Simmer 10 minutes.
- Wash all canning equipment in hot, soapy water.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil and submerge the jars and the funnel, and rest the jar lifter or tongs and a ladle in the water for ten minutes.
- Bring a small pot of water to a boil and submerge the screw bands for ten minutes.
- Remove the jars, funnel, jar lifter or tongs, ladle, and screw bands to a clean towel.
- Rest the funnel on the top of a jar and ladle figs and enough liquid to fill the jar. Leave ½ “ headroom. Continue to fill the jars in this manner.
- Wipe the rim of each jar clean if there are any splashes.
- Place a lid on each jar and tighten on a screw band.
- Bring a water bath canner or large pot of water to a boil. Make sure you have enough water to completely cover the jars by two inches.
- Lower the jars into the canner or pot gently using the jar lifter or tongs.
- Boil for 45 minutes.
- Remove the jars to a towel and allow to cool.
I used processing times based on recommendations for figs in Canning and Preserving for Dummies by Amelia Jeanroy and Karen Ward. Please also refer to the following site: National Center for Home Food Preservation, http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/publications/publications_usda.html
You don’t need to officially can these figs. If you wish, you may simply ladle them into clean jars or other containers and eat them immediately. They will keep in the refrigerator for a week.
Candied Brown Turkey Figs
- Follow the method above, substituting water for the vinegars.
- Reduce the syrup a bit longer on the second cook before canning.
This version yields sweet, treacly figs with a glossy syrup.
Pickled Brown Turkey Figs
- Follow the method above, but mix all of the syrup ingredients without dividing into two batches.
This version yields softer figs that are slightly less sweet.