Fig Preserves

Although figs are common in Lowcountry backyards, they are not produced commercially here. If you have access to a productive tree, you may have a plethora of fruit during the ephemeral season. Ripe figs fade rapidly and must be eaten the day they are picked. I usually preserve them with their stems on, so that they maintain their shape, but you may pluck the stems or crush the fruit. The pickling lime called for in the recipe firms the fruit. It is available in 1- and 2-pound bags from grocers. It is calcium hydroxide, a weak base. Also known as hydrated or slaked lime, it is available from pharmacies as well.

Old Receipts from Old St. Johns (c. 1919) includes three fig preserve recipes among its dozen jams and jellies. Each produces a distinctive preserve, affected even more by choice of figs. This is one of those recipes that defy modern instructions: preserve what you have, using the following formulas:

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  • figs
  • pickling lime
  • pound sugar for each pound of figs
  • 1 pint jar for each pound of figs


In a nonreactive pot, cover the figs in lime water (1 tablespoon of pickling lime to each quart of water) and soak for 10 minutes. Rinse the figs thoroughly in cold water.

Add sugar to the figs in a preserving kettle and cook at a low boil until the figs are transparent, about 1 hour. Pour into hot sterile jars at once and screw down the lids. Process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes or simply put the preserves in the refrigerator and use within a couple of weeks.