For 10 years I taught jam workshops at a historic Victorian home in Oakland. In the yard lived the oldest surviving barn in Oakland and a fig tree that appeared older than the barn. That fig tree was a serious conversation piece. With its bark and trunk so uniquely shaped with bumps and curves, it looked almost scarred. The bare branches of the winter and the dense shade of the spring and summer all made this tree look gigantic. When gathered in the backyard, people often asked, “What kind of tree is that?” And then when they found out they would ask, “What can you do with figs?” No one asked about the lemon tree next to it; it was always that fig.
It is no surprise that the tree and the fruit are filled with so much intrigue. Cultivated since ancient times, figs grow in the very hot, dry climates of the Middle East and Asia. This makes them perfectly poised for featuring in all sorts of religious texts and ancient lore, which means that humans have a long history of being intrigued by figs and their trees and foliage. e fig leaf is found all over the Louvre museum in Paris as one of the first body coverings. It is almost as if it is bred into our DNA to be intrigued by the fig. But isn’t it odd that something so ancient is still so unfamiliar and remains a mystery?
What do you do with figs? You would think that since figs were some of the earliest cultivated fruits we would know what to do with them. e fig holds an allure of the ancient and can actually put us in touch with a very distant past.
I grew up in Chicago where the only fig that I had ever tasted was a dried one. Figs, like many other delicious fruits, do not ship well and do not last long after harvest. is makes fresh figs a real treat to be enjoyed near where they grow. California is a perfect climate for many varieties of figs, which produce both in the spring and in the fall. e larger crop is in the fall, the perfect time for making fig jam.
That tree in the backyard in Oakland was the first time I ever picked a fig right from the tree and ate it fresh. e best figs are when they are hot from the sun and squishy between the fingers. Biting into a fresh, warm fig in the sunshine can make one feel that they are actually in a Renaissance painting. Fig trees produce so much fruit that if you have one or know of someone with one, then making fig jam is a must! I have taken a liking to making small batches of fig jam, harvesting the fruit fresh from the tree. Unlock the mystery of figs and make jam!