I’m always really excited when I find a fig tree – like something in me forgets that I live in England now, and I’ve yet to pick a ripe fig from a tree – even here in the very South of England.
Fortunately a South African friend of mine invited me round to her house last year, and out of her cupboard she brought a jar of green fig preserve, reminding me how, back home, we used to deal with the figs before the birds could get to them.
This is one of many recipes – in reading up on it, I realise that it’s also something the Turkish do, so who knows how it made it’s way into the South African diet – to me it’s definitely a South African staple, so here’s the recipe, should you too have access to a big fig tree that never bears fruit. You’ll never look back.
Two things: it’s a bit fiddly to get the figs to the point of ready, but well worth the effort. Also, I don’t tend to add the spices in the boil. I add them to jars when they’re ready to be bottled up – this means I might have a fig and cardamom, a fig and cinnamon or a fig and clove, slightly different flavours, which keeps it fun and exciting.
Sometimes the figs we find are really big – too big to fit into gifting or ‘single portion’ (aka, enough for one meal) jars. If that’s the case, halve or quarter the figs before adding them to the sugar syrup. It doesn’t look as pretty in the jar, but in reality, when you pull them out to eat on your crackers you would rarely eat a whole one on a single cracker anyway.
Spices (cloves, cinnamon stick or cardamom all work well)
Juice of 1 lemon
Bring a pot of water to boil - just enough to cover the figs. Add the figs and boil for ten minutes. Empty out and refill the pot, bringing the figs to boil and boiling for another ten minutes. This is important, as it's what makes them lose the bitter/unripe taste.
Drain and leave to cool.
Once cool enough to touch, squeeze the figs - there may may be some white liquid that drains out. If there's still a lot of white juice, boil again for ten more minutes, then squeeze again. It seems fiddly, but is well worth it!
In a clean pot, bring the 1.250ml water to boil and add sugar. Once the sugar is dissolved, add the squeezed figs. They will resume their original shape during this process, unless of course, you've cut them.
Add the spices of choice* and boil figs in the sugar syrup for about 25 minutes. Add the lemon juice and boil 5 minutes more.
Pour into sterilised jars, making sure the syrup covers the figs. *I tend to leave out the spices in the previous step and add different spices into the jars at this point so that I have different spice varieties. Close while hot to create a vacuum seal.
Keep in a cool dark place, and transfer to the fridge once opened as it's actually best cold, served with goats cheese and parma ham - or just goats cheese if you're veggie.
It sounds a bit odd – making cheese on the campfire. You probably want to manage your expectations on this one – you’re not making a fine camembert, but it’s still a brilliant activity and a tasty spreading cheese to have on crackers or toast.
When it’s warm enough to roll down the windows as I drive around the island and I smell the feint hint of garlic in the air, I know it’s wild garlic season and time for wild garlic capers. We’re pretty lucky to have a huge amount of wild garlic on the Island, so we can take as much as we’re going to need for the year and it won’t have made a jot of difference to what’s available.
I think everyone who goes wild garlic picking for the first time picks way more than they need – and end up with wild garlic pesto in the freezer for the next six years! Fortunately a seasoned forager learns quickly how much to responsibly forage!
These are dead easy, and it’s quite hard to get it wrong. The most important tips for foraging wild garlic is to check every leaf. Daffodils, bluebells, lords and ladies and stinking iris all tend to grow in the same places as wild garlic, so if you’re just taking hands full, you could end up pretty sick. Please check every leaf.
For this recipe the best tips are to not use metal implements and to make sure the lid of the jar you use is vinegar-proof (an old pickle jar is ideal). Also, pop some wax paper into the finished liquid to force the floating wild garlic down into the liquid.
Play around with your seasonings. Some recipes call for sugar, I don’t think its necessary. You can use different vinegars, which will, of course, change the flavour slightly. I use white spirit vinegar, pickling vinegar or apple cider vinegar, because I like to use the ‘leftover’ vinegar into a balsamic once all our wild garlic capers are finished.
By the way, there’s a difference between three-cornered leek and wild garlic. (Narrower leaves, for a start!) but three-cornered leeks also have flower buds, so they work the same way!