I have a love affair with figs and fig jam. A few summers ago when I was visiting Mexico City, my suegra and I went to the Mercado Coyoacán to pick up some handmade tortillas and oranges for making fresh-squeezed juice. As always, we strolled through the market at a leisurely pace, taking in all the sights and smells of all of our favorite stalls.
One of her favorite stalls, run by a wrinkled old lady, had an abundance of just-picked figs. The viejita stood in the middle of the aisle with her hands cupped, filled with figs as she cried, “Higos! Higos!”
We stopped to say hello to the woman and she cut open a fig to show me the inside. It was perfectly pink. She must’ve seen the look of excitement on my face because she stuffed two figs in my hand and said they were a gift to enjoy. She gave my suegra a few as well and after thanking her profusely and buying a few oranges, we were on our way.
I don’t recall seeing fresh figs often in the grocery store while I was growing up in the Midwest– and I’m not sure if that’s the reason why they fascinate me so much now, as if I have a lot of catching up to do or if, like many things, I’ve just gained a new appreciation for them while in Mexico. Figs have been growing in Mexico for centuries; the Spaniards are credited for bringing them to the New World in the 1500s.
If you pay attention to the produce in the grocery store or at your local farmer’s market, you may have noticed figs are in season right at this time of year. Recently, a friend who lives in Los Angeles mentioned that she had an over-producing fig tree. Jokingly, I told her if she wanted to get rid of some of her extra figs, she could send them to me and I’d put them to good use. After a few emails, the figs were on their way to me in the mail. They arrived perfectly bubble wrapped in a box and as she had picked the figs before they were ripe so they’d survive being shipped cross-country, they were just starting to ripen.
The sweet, earthy scent that perfumed my kitchen when I gently unraveled the bubble wrap was intoxicating. I washed the figs in cool water and as I dried them I started thinking about what I’d do with nearly five pounds of fruit. After eating a number of them just sliced and sprinkled with a little brown sugar or with plain yogurt, I finally decided to make my own mermelada, or jam.
On my most recent trip to Mexico City, I remember having seen a fig jam recipe in a Mexican cookbook with a section on pastry-making, pan dulce and other delectable sweets. I knew I had seen the book at my favorite bookstore in Mexico City, but I couldn’t remember the name of it. I did, however, remember some of the technique to infuse chiles in jams and jellies. This recipe is my version of mermelada de higo using the infusion technique that I remember from the book.
I chose to infuse this fig jam with chile ancho (dried poblano chile) for its mild heat and earthy flavor to complement the fig’s earthiness, and chile pulla (which is like a smaller, more potent guajillo chile) for its sharp fruit tones and moderate heat.
This mermelada is multi-purpose: it’s great for spreading on a hearty piece of toast or on crackers with cheese, in yogurt for breakfast or a snack, heated and spooned over vanilla ice cream or inside pastry crust for a buttery, flaky and spicy-but-sweet treat.
Here are instructions for learning proper canning technique. As mentioned in the recipe, I prefer Italian Bormioli Rocco “Quattro Stagioni” 0.15 liter jars for canning jams and salsas because they’re rounded and pleasing to the eye, as well as the perfect size to give as a gift. Each jar holds about 5 ounces. You can purchase a set of 12 Bormioli Rocco Quattro Stagioni 5 Ounce Canning Jars from El Mercadito, my Amazon aStore (this is an affiliate link).
- What’s your favorite way to eat figs?