Bourbon Preserved Figs

If you’re lucky enough to have a fig tree, or a neighbor who has one, you have figs coming out your ears in early summer…and perhaps again in late fall, especially if you live in a Southern state.  This fall crop of figs often gets interrupted by early frosts.  The figs are still green when they get frozen, and thereby ruined, on the tree.

Or perhaps your fig tree has that common, pesky habit of turning its fruit from green, hard, and fuzzy, to rotten, fermented, and falling off the tree, over the course of, say, about an hour.  Truth be told, figs are incredibly hard to pluck from the tree in their prime.  By the time they reach this stage, they’ve been devoured by birds, infested with worms or wasps or ants, or they’ve fallen and bruised on the ground, whereupon they ferment into a pungent, mildly alcoholic goo that makes you gag if you get within a hundred feet of the tree.  For this reason, most people with a fig tree wish they didn’t have a fig tree.  And the rest of us spend $3 a fig at the market and cherish every morsel.

Ben to the rescue!  I have 2 fig trees, and my neighborhood is rife with them, so I’ve developed the habit of picking figs a bit green…before the birds and the bees get to them…and preserving them in…what else?  Bourbon.  Because bourbon and figs go together like peas in a pod.  Come to think of it…there’s not much that bourbon DOESN’T go with!

And if you’re in the South, with the right variety of tree, you’re probably accustomed to watching all those lovely fall figs freeze solid and drop off the tree in December, lamenting all that deliciousness lost.  I’ll climb the ladder and tug off ANY full-sized fig just before the first frost, and use this technique to enjoy figs all winter and spring, until ripe ones are ready for the plucking in summer.

This recipe doesn’t work well with fully ripe figs, which fall apart using this method.

tons of unripe, or barely ripe figs (or a handful)

About 2 pounds of figs will fit into a quart jar, and this recipe is for 2 quarts of preserved figs.  Wash the figs well, and bring a huge pot of water to a rolling boil on the stove.  A few at a time, drop the figs into the boiling water, and blanch them for 2 minutes.  Them remove them to an ice bath to stop the cooking:

After all the figs are blanched, dump the blanch water and make the bourbon syrup in the pot by combining:

4 cups bourbon
2 cups water
3 cups brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt

This makes enough syrup for 2 quarts of preserved figs.  Bring to a boil, then add the figs to the syrup.  Return to a boil and boil vigorously for 5 minutes:

While the figs are boiling, prepare the jars.  If you’re actually going to can the figs for shelf-stable, long-term storage, the jars should be sterilized and the lids should be held in hot, 180F water until canning.  If you’re just going to keep the figs in the fridge, you can skip this sterilization process.

To the jars, add:

1/2 teaspoon citric acid per quart

Citric acid is a common ingredient in canning, sprouting, and cheesemaking.  Many grocery stores carry it, but you can always find it at gourmet and health food markets.  This acidifies the storage liquid, reducing the risk of pathogens like botulism growing in the oxygen-deprived environment.  If you can’t get your hands on citric acid, you can use 2 Tablespoons of lemon juice per quart, but it will change the flavor of the figs.

After the figs have boiled 5 minutes in the syrup (or 10 minutes for very green, hard figs), transfer them to the jars:

Then pour the hot syrup over the figs, to within about 1/2 inch of the rim of the jar:

If you are canning the figs, seal the jars and process them in boiling water for 45 minutes (for quart jars between sea level and 1000 feet…add 5 minutes per 1000 feet higher), or in a pressure cooker for 20 minutes at high pressure.  Then let the jars cool and store them.

If you are planning on keeping the figs in the fridge, after pouring the syrup into the jars, seal them and let them cool.  Then keep the jars in the fridge until you’ve eaten all the figs.

How do you eat bourboned figs?  As you would any old fig, though these are much better.  At FRANK we serve them on crispy prosciutto with a little foie gras melted on top.  At home, I love them on pancakes or French toast.  They’re great in cocktails, over ice cream (with the syrup!), with cheese, on steak…the sky’s the limit.

When all the figs are gone, don’t ditch that syrup.  It’s delicious and makes incredible cocktails (especially hot toddies!), or use it in place of honey in recipes, over waffles, frozen as a bourbon fig sorbet…just anywhere but the drain!

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