Fig Jam Recipe inspired by India, Israel and my life in the United States
The first time I saw fresh figs was in my backyard. I was around 6 years old. My grandma had carefully planted a number of fruit trees around her home in northern India. There was mango, lychee, orange, lemon, papaya, Indian blackberry, and a lone fig tree. Figs trees are not common in this part of India (known as Punjab), where we have below freezing winters and warm rainy summers. However, they are found in western and southern India, which doesn’t get as cold. As far as I knew, we were the only family that had a fig tree in our city. I had never seen them in the markets either.
Certainly, we ate dried figs (called anjeer in Hindi) in India, especially during winter months. On sunny crisp afternoons, my family would sit outside on the patio, basking in the sun for warmth, since we didn’t have indoor heaters or fireplaces. My grandma would bring out a tray of dried fruits – with roasted whole walnuts, chewy dried figs, pine nuts in shells, and sweet green raisins. I used a nut cracker to extract the kernels till I got tired and my hands turned dry. This was our family “happy hour” where we took a break from the day to talk about my schoolwork, the latest Bollywood movies, and gossip about our neighbors (which is a favorite Indian pastime).
When we harvested the figs from our tree, my grandma made fig jam with it. “It is what Jesus ate when he was wandering through the hills of Galilee,” my grandma who was an avid Catholic, said to me. She read the Bible everyday, in the morning and at bedtime. In the 1960’s, when most Indians couldn’t afford to travel abroad, my grandma traveled to Jerusalem and Bethlehem, visiting holy sites for Christians. She told me about these far off places, inspiring me to create my own travel bucket list.
Three decades later, I traveled to Israel on a culinary tour. During my week-long visit, I stayed at a boutique resort in the hills of Galilee (northern Israel), where I ate homemade sheep cheese, creamy labne, fresh fig jam, crisp malawach, paired with locally made old world wines. On the shores of the Sea of Galilee, I envisioned Jesus walking through the green rolling hills, stopping by the Jordan river for water, and plucking ripe fruits from the bountiful trees. On most days, I spoke to my grandma on the phone and recounted my own experiences.
The following year, I wrote a children’s travel book on Israel.
Recently, my husband and I planted a fig tree in our own backyard in Atlanta. We watched it grow from a 2-feet tall sapling to over 12-feet in just a few months. There were little fruit buds that grew into large purple bulbs. We waited for the fruits to ripen, trying to beat the birds to get the freshest picks. By late summer, we started harvesting the figs by handfuls, and then bucketfuls. Subsequently, after work every evening my husband brought in fresh figs for me to “do something with.” I ate them raw, arranged charcuterie platters, roasted figs for salads, baked fig-ricotta cakes, made fig jams, bottled fig chutneys, churned them into fig gelato, and still had enough to share with our neighbors. Now, in November, we still have fresh figs and a lot of sweet memories.
My grandma joined Jesus in heaven (as her belief would say) in June this year. Perhaps she is blessing me through my own tree.
I made this fig jam in her memory.
- 8-10 cups fresh ripe figs
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- juice of 1 lemon
- 1/2 cup port wine
- 1 teaspoon cardamom powder
- 2 Tbsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon dried lemon peel
8-ounce glass Mason jars for storing
Remove stems from the figs and cut them in quarters. In a large bowl, toss the fresh figs with sugar. Set aside for at least 1 hour.
In a large pot over medium-high setting, cook the fig and sugar mixture, along with the lemon juice and port wine. Once the liquid begins to bubble, add the cardamom, vanilla and lemon peel. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring frequently until the figs break down and are a sticky preserve-like consistency. Add a teaspoon of water to prevent scorching and if you want the mixture to be thinner. This will take about 45-60 minutes.
Remove the pot from heat and set aside to cool.
Serve the warm fig jam as a compote with vanilla ice cream. Spread the jam with cream cheese on toast for breakfast, and pair with Brie or any of your favorite cheese and crackers. Store the jams in air tight glass containers for up to 3 months.
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