Fig Jam, a Homemade Luxury

Fig jam seems so elegant to me. Luxurious spread on toast, or on crostini served with cheddar, blue, or Parmesan cheese, or a slice of apple, or spread on brie before you enclose it in pastry to bake as an appetizer. Pretty pricey if you buy it in specialty food shops.

And wouldn’t it be grand if we could grow figs here in Maine (though I suppose someone does in a greenhouse or some other protected environment) and went out to pick ripe ones to make into jam. So the good news is that we can make fig jam from dried figs which I decided to do in order to make some Christmas presents, and to have a little leftover to serve for some festive occasion during the upcoming holidays.

I also have a memory of a filled Christmas cookie my mom used to make, with two rounds of cookie dough with a blob of preserve between. This fig jam would be the perfect filling. Or a filling for thumb-print cookies. Or dropped into a little pastry shell with some toothsome cheese, warmed in the oven. And, and, and.

It is wicked easy. Simmer a package of dried figs in water with sugar and lemon juice added until the figs are tender. Heave it into a food processor, give it a whirl until it is smooth, flavor with a little balsamic vinegar and cardamom and that is it. You might prefer to flavor with cinnamon or vanilla; you might also want to use more sugar. Suit yourself.

Real balsamic vinegar ought to be a light syrup, coat a spoon, and have a distinctly sweet taste. It is costly. I make a version of balsamic vinegar that mimics the expensive stuff: you can acquire a cheap balsamic at the grocery store, and reduce it to a syrup in a saucepan over a low heat; it takes a couple of hours. It is a pleasant tart-sweet when done and coats a spoon. I label the little bottle full with the words “faux b.v.” That is what I used in this recipe.

I used a nine-ounce package of figs. You can easily double this or halve it. If your figs look a little dry, dribble in a bit more water. If they are very dry, they might require cooking a little longer to achieve tenderness.

Fig Jam
Serves: Makes 2 cups
  • 9 ounces whole dried figs
  • 1½ cups water
  • ½ cup turbinado or light brown sugar
  • ½ to 1 cup white sugar, to taste
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar to taste
  • ¾ teaspoon ground cardamom
  1. Put the figs, water, sugar, and lemon juice in a heavy bottomed sauce pan and bring to a boil.
  2. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the figs are tender, about twenty minutes.
  3. Allow to cool slightly and then put into a food processor and process until it is a smooth paste.
  4. Add the vinegar, stirring well after each addition and tasting until it suits your taste.
  5. Add the cardamom and mix well.
  6. Put into small jelly jars and, if you intend to store them for a couple of months, adjust the lids and rings, and process in boiling water bath for about ten minutes.


Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.