Not necessarily what you’d think, pickled figs are sweet, spicy and a delicious addition to cheese platters, poultry dishes and desserts.
Who ever heard of pickled figs? Certainly not me, but with a bumper fig crop coming on I was keen to make the most of my fresh fruit, and decided to give them a try. I headed to one of several cookbooks written by a senior high-profile Australian cook and began the (slightly confusing) first step of her recipe. Later, I sat down and read the recipe thoroughly. And then I read it again.
One of my biggest gripes with cookbooks is recipes that haven’t been tested properly. Or even at all. While an experienced cook like myself can spot an unworkable recipe, novice cooks do not have the same advantage. A bad experience with a dodgy recipe may well put a new cook off ever again trying something rewarding and really quite simple.
Unfortunately, this particular recipe fell into the fairly dodgy category. Some of the steps made no sense, some necessary steps in the method were missing, and some of the listed ingredient amounts were just plain crazy. This was clearly not going to end well.
But by this time I was committed (and seriously looking forward to enjoying some pickled figs) so after some research I ploughed on with my own version.
The name of these can be a little deceptive. Pickled figs are not pickled in a salty brine, but gently poached, steeped, and poached again in a spiced and slightly vinegary sugar solution. They are sweet, slightly tangy, and a perfect accompaniment to cheese, game, poultry – and ice cream.
My pickled figs recipe couldn’t be much simpler, takes very little hands-on time, and uses ingredients you may well have to hand. Some recipes instruct you to preserve the finished product in a water bath, but I really can’t see a need for that – the heavy sugar syrup is a preservative itself, and they store perfectly well in the fridge.
Use small, firm, just ripe figs, if they are over-ripe they will break up.
There will be syrup left over – this is utterly splendid. Pour it over fresh fruit, ice cream or cake. Or eat with a spoon. You decide.
In my neck of the woods, it’s fig season right now – why not give these a go and share them on your next cheese platter, or perhaps give a jar or two as gifts. People will love you for it!
- 1.5 kg whole, fresh figs, with stems (fruit should not be too ripe or it will break up)
- 1 kg white sugar
- 500 mls apple cider vinegar
- 500 mls water
- 5 cinnamon sticks
- 1/2-1 tsp whole cloves (depending upon taste preference)
- 5 whole star anise
- Rinse figs thoroughly under running water. Drain.
- Bring remaining ingredients to a boil, stirring to melt the sugar. Reduce to a brisk simmer and cook the syrup for 10 minutes.
- Gently add the figs to the syrup, reduce to a slow simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Gently does it. Do not boil vigorously or the fruit will break up - we want to keep it whole.
- Remove pan from heat, weight the fruit with a plate to keep them submerged, cover the pot, and allow figs to steep in syrup overnight.
- Next day, remove the plate and bring the syrup and fruit very gently back up to a slow simmer. Cook for 15 minutes.
- Remove from heat and gently remove the fruit from the syrup and transfer to sterilised jars.
- Bring the remaining syrup back up to a boil, then cook for 5-10 minutes to reduce slightly.
- Top up all jars with the reduced syrup, adding some of the spices if desired, and seal.
- Store in the fridge.