I probably received my penchant for nostalgia from my father. He is a man of big emotions and a tendency to recall the “good ole days” as if is watching the scenes of his life on a 1960’s movie projector.
My dad shares tales of his Southern California (and later Oregon) upbringing, with the charm of a gifted storyteller. There is no ignoring his yarns of blooming orange trees in Nana’s backyard to losing all his front teeth after crashing his bike on the very steep Athena Drive in San Pedro. My dad weaves big unforgettable tales. No tales are quite so perfect than his recollections of the foods from his youth. My father has always had a gourmet’s appetite. I might spare you the details of finest Scotch broth (it definitely involves a sheep’s head – hmm, maybe I will write on that one day, on second thought), and I have already covered scones and shortbread. But the food memory my father recalls with the mistiest of eyes is Momo’s (his maternal grandmother) sweet pickled figs. There is simply no denying that this single food stole his youthful heart.
Alas, the ravages of time, moving, and loss has left these sweet pickled figs as just an element of my father’s vivid childhood recollections. No written family recipe exists, and those that might recall Momo’s methods have long since passed. But it is his food memory that stuck with me the most. I have never been able to shake the desire to replicate these figs for my father. It is the reason I planted my fig trees. When my trees finally offered a crop to reckon with this year, I called my father and had him recount his memories of sweet pickled figs in every luxurious detail. With his vivid recall and a bit of online research, I think I have come close to capturing the wonder of sweet pickled figs.
My “Desert King” fig tree droops heavy with the first (breba) and second (main) crops of figs this year. This particular variety produces a fig with a bright green exterior and a lovely raspberry hued flesh. You can see more about growing figs here. About 20 very large fruits finally softened, indicating ripeness and there was only one thought on my mind. Sweet pickled figs.
Mind you – the word “pickled” and the addition of vinegar might deter some from the recipe. Let me reassure you that these are no ordinary pickle. These sweet pickled figs are most candy-like, syrupy, and richly spiced with cinnamon sticks, cloves, allspice berries, and cardamom pods. That vinegar only lends a nod of acidity, providing balance on the palate. I now know why these figs are among the fondest of my father’s memories. Eaten right out of the jar with a spoon, these sweet pickled figs would be gone in an instant. Spooned over vanilla bean ice cream with crumbled amaretti or ginger snap cookies –these figs would also be at equally at home. Plain greek yogurt with a smattering of the figs and their syrup – a divine breakfast, indeed. The syrup itself is a special blend of spicy, fruity, sweet and a little bit tangy – mix with sparkling water or into a cocktail for something extra special.
Recipe Notes: For those seeking to hammer me about the amount of sugar used in this recipe — move on. This is intended to be a very special dessert for a very special occasion. I will not fool with perfection. Besides — we aren’t going to eat these every day (or are we?). This recipe would also benefit from the use of slightly firmer fruit. I used my large, very ripe figs which I cut in half which resulted in some figs losing shape (no less delicious, however). I was very pleased with the smaller firmer figs that I left whole. I also chose to leave the spices in the syrup — I like the way it looks, but you can tie them up in cheese cloth for easy removal if desired
Sweet Pickled Figs with Cinnamon, Allspice, Clove & Cardamom
Sweet pickled figs with cinnamon, allspice, clove, and cardamom are a sweet, candy-like relic of bygone palates and childhood memories. Makes approximately two quarts or four pints.
- 20-30 medium to large figs (you may use more if your figs are especially small)
- 6 cups organic sugar
- 1 cup organic apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup water
- 4 cinnamon sticks
- 1 tablespoon allspice berries whole
- 1 tablespoon cardamom pods whole
- .5 tablespoon cloves whole
Prepare figs by rinsing; cut extremely large figs in half, or pierce smaller whole figs a few times. Brind a large pot of water to a boil. Remove pot from heat and gently place prepared figs into hot water. Let the figs sit for five minutes then drain.
While figs are steeping in hot water, place sugar, vinegar, water and spices in a large stockpot. Over medium high heat, bring mixture to a boil. Once mixture boils, reduce heat to a simmer and place drained figs into the simmering syrup carefully.
Adjust heat to maintain a strong, but gentle simmer. Simmer figs in syrup for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Ladle figs, syrup and spices (if so desired) into clean jars. Place prepared lids and rings on jars and screw finger tight. Process in a water bath canner for 15 minutes for pints or 25 minutes for quarts. Remove from canner and allow to cool completely at room temperature.
Check lids for seal and loosen or remove rings. Store in a cool, dark cabinet for up to a year. Refrigerate after opening.