Kasey Christian, M.Ed.
Project Assistant at the National Center for Home Food Preservation
Select figs for preserving when they are at their peak of quality. Figs are at their peak when they are ripe, firm, and their skins un-cracked. Very soft flesh indicates that they are overripe. The color of figs does not tell you much about their quality, because color varies depending on the variety. Brown Turkey, Celeste, and Kadota are some of the varieties good for preserving.
Figs are distinct from many other fruits, not just because of their unique texture and flavor, but also because figs are one of the few fruits with a borderline pH for canning. Raw figs sit right on the border between acid foods and low acid foods, which is pH 4.6, and can go over pH 5.0. What does this mean for preserving figs? In order to safely preserve figs using the boiling water canning method, the USDA process recommendation requires that you add acid to ensure a pH that will prevent the growth of botulinum toxin. (No pressure process has been developed, so acidification with boiling water canning is the only process available.)
If you are new to home canning, then please read Guide 1: Principles of Home Canning in the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning. This publication will give you a great starting point to begin your practice, and will likely prove to be a helpful resource as you continue canning. Also please review a brief description of Equipment and Methods Not Recommended.
Preparation for canning figs is minimal; washed and dried, firm, un-cracked fruits are left whole, with short stems and peels still attached. Boiling and packing figs in light syrup (~20% sugar) will help the fruits retain their color and texture. To increase the acidity of the product, acid must be added and it can be ¼ teaspoon citric acid or 1 Tablespoon bottled lemon juice for pint size canning jars. Quart size jars require ½ teaspoon citric acid or 2 Tablespoons bottled lemon juice. Consider your altitude and process accordingly, as recommended by USDA.
Peeled or un-peeled are both acceptable ways to freeze figs. Either way, washed figs can be packed into freezer containers in syrup or dry. If choosing a syrup pack, then a cold, 40 percent syrup is recommended, to which ¾ teaspoon ascorbic acid or ½ cup bottled lemon juice per quart is added. For a dry pack, you may pack figs directly into containers or first freeze them on trays and then pack into containers so that they separate more easily. To preserve the color of light-colored figs, dissolve ¾ teaspoon ascorbic acid in 3 Tablespoons cold water and sprinkle over 1 quart of fruit before freezing. Remember to leave adequate headspace in freezer containers.
Avoid under-ripe figs for drying, because they might become sour in flavor. Clean figs can be left whole if they are small, and cut in half if they are large. Whole figs should have their skins “checked” to allow even and more rapid drying. To “check” figs, dip whole figs in boiling water for 30 seconds or more, until skins split. Immediately plunge into an ice water bath to stop further cooking. Drain well before drying. Expect figs to take between 6 to 12 hours to dry in a dehydrator, perhaps shorter for halved figs.
Figs can also be combined with other, but acid, fruits to make fruit leather. Remember to also add lemon juice or ascorbic acid to prevent darkening and increase the safety margin for acidity.
Less common than dried figs, Fig Pickles are a flavorful preserved fig product. Our recipe is a good, old-fashioned southern condiment. Prepare figs for pickling by peeling them, or if leaving unpeeled, pour boiling water over them and let stand until cool, then drain. The pickling solution is a sweet and spicy vinegar solution. The figs are cooked in the solution until they are translucent, then covered and refrigerated for 12 to 24 hours. At that point in time, the spice bag is removed and the figs heated in the brine to boiling. These pickles are processed in a boiling water canner.
Although figs do not contain enough juice to make a jelly, they do make excellent quality jams and preserves. Fig Jam can be made with liquid pectin or without added pectin. Strawberry-Fig Preserves is a delicious taste combination. Last but not least, we cannot forget classic southern Fig Preserves, which are whole figs in a thick sugar syrup. (Sorry, but there is no reduced sugar version for this style of traditional southern fruit preserves.) For all of these fig spreads in our collection, it is important to sterilize jars before filling them since process time is only 5 minutes at sea level. Or, use clean hot jars and increase the process time to 10 minutes in boiling water canner. Remember to increase process times at altitudes over 1,000 feet.
Krewer, G.W., & Hendrix, F. (2012). Home Garden Figs. Retrieved from http://extension.uga.edu/publications/files/pdf/C%20945_3.PDF
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