Ciao'd after mahjong. Bam!
Show me a fig, especially a green one, and in a memory’s wink, I am standing on a ladder plucking the fruit off Zia Pasqua’s tree. Let me bite into one, I am sitting under the tree on a sultry late summer day, my bare toes tapping the cool bluestone terrace, my lips slicked with glistening, rosy juice. Cue the bees.
Italians enjoy a symbiotic relationship with figs. That’s why so many of them, Zia’s generation especially, brought cuttings with them when they came to America. Italians planted the trees not only for the fruit they revered but also as a talisman for connecting the “old country” to the new. Now, my sisters, cousins and I associate the fig with our Italian heritage as well as our zias, zios and nonnas who cultivated them. The generation before us instilled that same reverence for the fig in us and forever linked us to their collective memory.
Zia Pasqua planted her fig tree in Connecticut. In the Northeast. Where it gets cold. And frosts and snows. I don’t remember if Zia buried the tree (yes, you can!) or stored it in her garage (double yes, you can!) in the winter. I just know it reappeared each spring, its fat, glossy leaves first providing shade and then (finally!) revealing the softig fruit underneath. Bowls of figs, their smooth green skins opening to rosé wine-hued flesh and a tumble of honey strawberry flavors, graced her kitchen counter, lasting only as long as it took for us to eat them.
The metaphor isn’t lost on me. Figs are fragile and fleeting, which is why one needs to relish them in the moment. And then remember.
At the farmers market the other day, I discovered panchée, aka tiger stripe, figs. Sensationally sweet and superbly hued, I could think of no better way to celebrate them than with fig jam. My recipe for Marsala Fig Jam is super easy. And you don’t have to sterilize the jars. Quick tip: Simmer the jam in a heavy non-reactive pan for the best heat retention. I use my enameled cast iron cocotte from Staub. It holds a steady heat and it's stick-resistant, too. Yay, easy clean-up! Less time cleaning means more time to enjoy the jam – on toast, with cheese, or straight from a spoon.
MARSALA FIG JAM
There is something about “putting up” that herds me back to my grandmothers and aunts preserving their gardens’ bounties. Then, it was a way to sustain the harvest through the cold months. Now, it’s a hobby and an anthem to the past. This jam is super easy to make and super delicious to eat, the latter maybe because you “canned” it yourself. This is a refrigerator/freezer jam. That means no jar sterilizing required. Yay.
Makes six ½-pint jars
3 pounds figs, chopped into ½-inch pieces
3 cups sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
¼ cup sweet Marsala wine
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon all-natural pectin, if needed
Place the figs in a heavy pot and pour in the sugar. Let sit 15 minutes, stirring once or twice. Add the lemon juice, Marsala, balsamic vinegar, and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until a few drops of the mixture set on a chilled plate, about 20 to 30 minutes. At this point, if the mixture remains liquid-y, remember that it will thicken as it cools but will probably be a thinner consistency than a traditional jam. If you want a more viscous jam, stir in the pectin.
Once the mixture reaches the consistency you desire, remove it from the heat and let cool. Spoon into jars and store in refrigerator or freezer. The jam will last one week in the refrigerator and three months+ in the freezer.