Idoubt that many 20-somethings are canning these days but it wouldn’t be a bad idea if you happen to have a fig tree in your yard or know somebody who does. Fruit trees thrive well in Louisiana – including persimmons, figs and pears – not to mention the burst of sunshine that citrus gives us in the fall.

Other than citrus, fruit crops are ready for harvest in the warmer months with purplish-bronze figs speckling the large-leaf green trees in late June. One of my favorite breakfasts is a bowl of fresh peeled ripe figs swimming in cream and sugar. Eaten off the vine they make a highly nutritious, nonfat snack and wrapped in thin Prosciutto, they are ideal for cocktail appetizers. When your tree is loaded with more figs than you can eat, give them to fig-loving friends or “put some up” to serve over hot buttermilk biscuits for breakfast.

Fig trees can be messy and birds love to help themselves. However, if you can pick them before they get mushy, you’ll be rewarded with big buckets of delicious fruit. Some folks don’t like figs raw but love the sweet preserves – one of the most deliciously moist cakes in the world can be made with fig preserves.

Creating these preserves was one aspect of canning – a method of preserving food before refrigeration. People acquired a taste for certain preserved foods – country hams, fruit preserves, smoked fish – and the recipes and processes live on today.

 Canning is not a hard thing to do; it just takes a little time. First, you clean or peel the fruit or vegetables, then sterilize the jars (available at most grocery stores) and then cook the fruit with whatever seasonings you desire. To sterilize, place the glass jars in a large pot of water that completely covers them. Bring the water to a boil and let stand in the boiling water for 15 minutes. In a separate smaller pot filled with water, place all utensils that you will use – including a large slotted spoon, some smaller spoons and the jar rings – and boil for 15 minutes. In the last five minutes of boiling, place the lids in the water. Pour out the water and let utensils cool. You will use these to manipulate the sterilized jars and stir and spoon the preserves. Remove the sterilized jars from and pour out water, lining them up on paper towels to dry. When you finish cooking your preserves, simply pour them in each jar within 1/2 inch of the top and place the lid and ring on top. Fasten tight. The best part is the pretty row of jars on your kitchen table once you are finished – your friends will be impressed – and the pride you have in accomplishing it.

Besides the Celeste, a variety of fig long grown in Louisiana, horticulturists are experimenting with Mediterranean varieties that are large and succulent and promise to enhance our fruit-growing landscape. Our climate and the Mediterranean’s are similar, although figs like a little more dryness than our heavy rainfall allows. So far figs like it here, and the more the merrier, I say.
4 pounds fresh figs, ripe but firm
4 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1 lemon, sliced in thin rings

Rinse figs well with cool water and drain in a colander. Peel and set aside.

Make a syrup with the sugar, water and lemon, cooking on medium-high temperature until thickened. Add figs and continue to cook until figs are tender and syrup has thickened to the consistency of honey.

Pour fig mixture into sterilized jars to within 1/2 inch of the top. Place lids and rings on tight. Let jars cool, then label and date them. Makes 6 half-pints.
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
3 eggs
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 cup buttermilk
1 half pint (1 cup) fig preserves, chopped, including liquid
1 cup pecans, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a mixer, cream sugar and butter. Add eggs, one at a time, while mixing. Add oil and vanilla, then mix.

In a separate bowl, mix dry ingredients, and add 1/3 at a time – alternating with buttermilk – to the egg mixture. When mixed well, add preserves and pecans and stir together.

Pour batter into a greased and floured Bundt or tube pan. Bake for 50 minutes. Check if done with a toothpick. Bake up to 1 hour or until a toothpick comes out clean. Do not overcook. Cool cake in pan for about 20 minutes. Run a knife around the edges and place on cake plate. Makes 1 heavy moist cake to serve 10-12.