Dill. Sweet. Bread and Butter. Refrigerator. Southerners love them all. From the fanciest market to the most humble filling station, you have to try hard not to find some locally-made delicacy. More often than not, the tart treats will be prominently displayed right by the cash register, not merely assigned to a shelf with the other, common groceries.
Pigs’ feet, okra, watermelon rind, squash, peppers, green beans, and sausages. Little is safe from a hot, vinegar bath. I thought I had seen, and eaten, them all – until last summer.
Faced with an overabundance of figs and bored with the run-of-the-mill preserves and jams, I went looking for something new and different to make. That’s when I stumbled on something I had never heard of, something my canning friends had never heard of, something even my mama had never heard of – pickled figs. How bad could it be? If you can pickle a pig’s foot, why can’t you pickle a fig?
After some experimentation, I wound up with the loveliest jars of pink pickled perfection – spicy with clove and cinnamon, the bite of cider vinegar tamed with sweet syrup – the taste of summer in a jar.
Makes 4 pints. This recipe is easily doubled or tripled.
2½ pounds small firm figs of any variety
2 cups cider vinegar
2 cups water
2½ cups sugar
8 whole cloves
8 whole allspice berries
2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
4 strips lemon and/or orange zest, each ½ by 2 inches approx.
1. Heat a kettle of water
2. Rinse the figs thoroughly in water in which some baking soda has been dissolved. Do not trim. Place the figs in a large bowl and cover with boiling water. Let stand until the water cools to room temperature, about 30 minutes.
3. Combine the vinegar, water, and the sugar in a large saucepan; heat to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar.
4. Meanwhile, boil your canning jars and tops in a large pot. Place sterilized jars on a clean kitchen towel.
5.Place two cloves, 2 allspice berries, a piece of cinnamon stick, and a piece lemon and/or orange zest (I like to use one of each) in each jar. Drain the figs and carefully arrange them in jars. Ladle the boiling syrup into the jars. Carefully run a small spatula or knife between the fruit and the jar to allow any bubble to escape. Fill the jars to within ¼ inch of the rim. Wipe the rims with a clean damp towel and seal.
6. Process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes. Lift the jars from the bath and let them cool in a dark place. Let the figs stand for at least 1 month so the flavors can develop.
Born in the Oil Capital of Alabama, Citronelle, Audrey McDonald Atkins, lives and works in Birmingham. A raconteur at heart, she examines Southern traditions old and new at her blog Folkways Nowadays. When she’s not telling stories, Audrey enjoys watching SEC football with her husband and son, as well as painting, traveling, and cooking.