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Fig on tree

Fig Heaven
Hatteras is a haven for fig lovers

When I was a boy growing up in Ridgefield, Connecticut, Mrs. Doubleday was the richest lady in town. She was a Doubleday of publishing fame, I was told. She lived in a huge house with a big swimming pool and a conservatory. The conservatory was a two-story building with a glass roof and a winding staircase in the middle. The staircase wrapped around the only fig tree I had ever seen. I can remember looking at the tree from the opposite side of the room and seeing figs covering the stairs and the floor below. The whole place seemed like a part of a Spanish Hacienda. I could imagine Zorro dueling on the steps with a band of Spanish soldiers and fleeing as the hapless men tumbled down on one another.

That was my introduction to fresh figs.

Then my family went to Italy – to Sorrento, where they have figs as big as grapefruits. We’d cut them in half and pour fresh cream on them and eat them. I was in love. A few years later, I saw the movie Women In Love. There is a scene where Oliver Reed graphically describes a fig in comparison to a women’s body; to a young man of 19, it was sensual and sensational. The kind of fig Reed is holding is similar to the figs of southern Italy.

We don’t get figs like that here on the east coast of the U.S., but in Maryland where I currently live, my neighbor, Kim, has a fig tree on the south side of her house. Kim's figs are two to three inches in diameter and ripen in early autumn. She gave me a lesson in making fig jam last year and let me keep what we made. I think the thing I'll miss most about Maryland when Shelby and I move to Avon is Kim's fig tree.

We discovered that Ike at Uncle Eddy’s Frozen Custard in Buxton makes fig ice cream from figs he picks off his grandmother’s tree. It is delicious. He said that, once we move down permanently, he will give me a cutting so I can grow my own fig tree. I can't wait.

On a recent trip to Avon, while driving around our neighborhood, I saw to my amazement a huge fig tree, loaded with figs. I asked the owner if I could pick some; not only did he say I could, he helped me pick them! All of a sudden I had a ton of figs and realized I couldn’t eat them all. What to do?

I froze many of the figs (whole) in sandwich-sized Ziploc bags. Before sealing the bags completely I sucked out as much air as I could.

Then I went online and looked up “fig preserves.”

The recipe I found called for six pounds of figs and six pounds of sugar. Shelby is diabetic, so anytime we see the word "sugar" we look for a substitute. Sure enough, the recipe said you could use Splenda instead (4 parts figs to 1 part Splenda).

Here’s what I did. I used 1-1/3 cups of Baking Splenda – half sugar, half Splenda – and an equal amount of figs. I washed the figs, cut off the stems, quartered them and placed them in a 3-cup measuring cup. I poured the Splenda on top. Then I topped off the measuring cup with more figs. I covered the measuring cup with plastic wrap, shook and rolled the measuring cup to try and coat all the figs with Splenda. I placed the cup in the refrigerator overnight.

In the morning most of the Splenda had been absorbed by the figs; some had slumped to the bottom. I put the mixture into a double-boiler and cooked it for about an hour. Once the figs had begun to liquefy, I moved the pan onto direct heat and cooked it another 30 min. or so.

Meanwhile we boiled lids, rings and jars. As soon as the fig mixture was the appropriate consistency, we filled the jars and put them in a hot water bath. Of course, there was a bit left over that we just had to spread on a toasted English muffin ... it was heaven.

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Penny Lane Sound Mind & Body