Yesterday at this time, my thermometer read 91 degrees. Today? Try 55. That’s right friends, fall is on its way.
I always feel a mixture of sadness and excited anticipation as the seasons begin to change. I wonder if I got everything I could have out of the season we’re leaving, but look forward to the rituals and unique pleasures of the one to come.
And while I feel this everytime a season fades, I somehow seem to feel it most keenly as summer turns into fall. I hate to wait another year for tomatoes, ripe to the point of bursting, to hang heavy on the vine, but can’t wait for the apples ripening on the tree, as crisp as a late September morning.
And so, with this whistful mood in tow, I set out to make a preserve that seems to me to be a perfect reflection of this time of year: Figs Preserved in Honey and Bourbon.
My goal with this preserve was not a jam or a jelly or even a traditional preserve. Instead, I wanted the figs to hold their shape and the honey-bourbon syrup to remain just that, a syrup, and not fully set up. The idea here is both that the figs are the focus and that I wanted something that would compliment a different set of foods.
Think vanilla ice cream and cheese cake, not toast and waffles.
Also, doesn’t a fig dripping with honey and bourbon just make you want to fall over in excitement? Well, it does me.
Here’s how it all played out.
First, I bought some Black Mission Figs. If you get them at the grocery store, be sure to check them carefully for signs of mold, as figs are extremely perishable.
I washed, stemmed and quartered them (except for the giant figs, which I sixthed). I put them into a ceramic bowl with the sugar, honey, lemon juice and one vanilla bean, split lengthwise.
A note on whole vanilla beans: When purchasing a vanilla bean, make sure it is soft and fresh, not old and brittle. The flavors are better and it is far easier to split.
Let these macerate in the bowl at room temperature with a parchment lid for one hour. The figs are soft and ready to give up their moisture (especially after being cut) and so we don’t need to do this step overnight.
Transfer the mixture from the bowl to your preserving pot and bring to a simmer. Return to the bowl, recover with parchment and let sit overnight in the fridge. During the process of transferring, simmering and re-transferring, be gentle with the figs, so as not to break them up into little figgy bits.
On day two, pour the mixture through a strainer (it doesn’t need to be real fine, as everything will be recombined in the end) and collect the syrup in the preserving pot. Get out your bourbon, pour yourself a glass, with an ice cube or two if you like, add some bourbon to the pot and bring to a simmer.
Once it comes to a simmer, you have two choices: burn off the alcohol or wait for it to simmer off. I chose to burn it off, mostly because it’s pretty fun, but for God’s sake, don’t burn your house down. Here’s what you can expect if you choose to stick a match (or birthday candle in this case) to it:
Once the syrup is reduced to the consistency you’d like, return the figs to the mix, return to a simmer.
Remove the vanilla bean halves and put into sanitized preserve jars. Cut the vanilla halves into as many jars as you have and put a piece in each jar for additional flavor and decoration. Here’s one of mine before the lid went on. You can see the vanilla bean sticking out some toward the top.
So, that’s the way to do it. Keep sipping your bourbon as you wait for your figs to cool and enjoy the last days of summer.
Figs Presevered in Honey with Bourbon
566 g (or 1 1/4 lb) figs
500 g sugar
400 g honey
Juice of one small lemon
200 g bourbon (1c, roughly) for the recipe plus 100 g bourbon for drinking
When choosing a bourbon, be sure to choose a real Kentucky Bourbon, not some “American Whiskey.” That’s right Jack Daniels, you can keep your Tennessee moonshine. As for how nice a bourbon to get, don’t go wasting a Pappy Van Winkle 20 Year, but don’t get something crappy like Old Crow or Rebel Yell. I went with Evan Williams, a mass market bourbon, which is decent. Also, it’s distilled in Bardstown, Kentucky and I am a decendant of William Bard, who founded the town with his brother David in 1782.
This following section has nothing to do with Figs and Honey, so stop reading if you like. It’s a bit of the legend surrounding my ancestor, William Bard, from the mythology of Bardstown. I found it on a geneaology website here.
<<The story is that salt being scarce at Pittsburgh, Bard proposed to three other men, Brown, Evans and Doe, to go down the Ohio river, on a flat-boat, to the salt licks of Kentucky. Doe’s wife went with them to cook for them. They landed near the site of Louisville, and then went to Drennon’s creek, twelve miles distant, where they built a cabin preparatory to beginning the manufacture of salt. The Does had with them an infant six months old. The party had not been many days at the salt licks when they were attacked by a band of Indians. Doe and his wife were both killed and Brown was severely wounded. Bard killed one Indian with his own gun, and with the gun of the dead man he shot another. These fatalities had the effect of intimidating the Indians, and they fled, leaving Mr. Bard with the wounded man and the helpless babe on his hands. He succored the child by chewing bread, that it might have sustenance. In the meantime, Evans made his way to the river in search of assistance. At midnight of the following night, the wounded man died. Bard then barred up the cabin and, taking the child in his arms, followed after Evans. He had gone only three miles when he was attacked by wolves. He escaped them by climbing a tree, where he remained until daylight. Resuming his journey, he soon afterward met Mr. Evans with a company of men led by Daniel Boone coming to his rescue.>>
That’s right folks, if it hadn’t been for good old Danny Boone, you wouldn’t have this here blog to read.
If that’s not a story worth a healthy measure of bourbon, I don’t know what is.