This summer's fig crop, if one can find sellers, is one of the best in recent years. Last year, too much rain damaged the figs. This year is just right.
The figs are firm and sweet. The rain came to help, not hurt, the crop this summer.
There is nothing like fresh fig preserves or fig cakes.
Figs come in quickly and go quickly. The fruit has to be picked at least once a day.
For the purchaser, figs sour quickly. I usually use mine the first day I buy them. If Naomi Coleman of Gulfport, Miss., can't cook hers immediately, she puts them in sugar water for several hours until she can use them in preserves. A great tip from a great cook.
My favorite way to eat figs is simply in a bowl with milk and a little sweetener. My grandmother used to serve those to me when I was young. Oh, that was, and still is, good eating. My daughter skips the milk and sweetener and goes straight for the fresh figs with nothing on them. My husband likes them cooked for preserves, in cakes or other foods.
I experimented with preserves this year. I usually make mine with half sugar and half Splenda but decided to try agave and Splenda this year and nix the sugar. Agave is a natural honey-like sweetener that does not spike blood sugar, which is a boost for diabetics.
For a quart of figs, I used 1 cup of Splenda and 1/2 cup of agave. I did not add water, lemon slices or strawberry gelatin. I wanted plain figs cooked low and slow. The preserves were not overly sweet and were a pretty caramel color. The true taste of the figs came through. These are the best I have ever made, and my family heartily agrees.
An easy-does-it use for figs is in a salad with mixed or bitter greens such as arugula or radicchio, nuts and a light
dressing of balsamic vinegar and oil. The sweet taste of the figs is great with the bitter greens. Goat cheese also could be added to the salad.
Fig pickles also are tasty with just the right fragrant spices. Here is a recipe that is simple.
4 quarts firm, ripe figs, about 30 medium
5 cups sugar divided
2 quarts water
3 cups vinegar
2 sticks cinnamon
1 tablespoon whole allspice
1 tablespoon whole cloves
Peel figs. If unpeeled figs are preferred, pour boiling water over figs and let stand until cool; drain. Combine 3 cups sugar and water; cook until sugar is dissolved. Add figs and cook slowly 30 minutes. Add 2 cups sugar and vinegar. Tie spices in a spice bag; add to figs. Cook gently until figs are clear. Cover; let stand 12 to 24 hours in a cool place. Remove spice bag. Bring mixture to a simmer. Pack hot figs and liquid into hot jars, leaving1/4-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Adjust 2-pies caps. Process pints and quarts 15 minutes in a boiling water canner. Yield: about 8 pints.
-- From "Ball Blue Book"
FRESH FIG CAKE WITH BUTTERMILK GLAZE
1-1/4 pounds fresh figs, to make 2 cups puree
2/3 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
For the glaze:
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup butter
2 teaspoons light corn syrup
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
For the cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a Bundt or tube pan well. Nonstick baking spray works well, too.
Snip the stems off the figs and place them in the bowl of a food processor. Process the figs to a chunky puree. Do not blend until smooth; you want some small chunks of figs in the mix. You should end up with 2 cups puree. If you don't have a food processor, use two forks and some elbow grease and mash the figs up well.
Whisk the eggs in a small bowl to break up the yolks, then add the oil, sugar and vanilla and blend until smooth. Add the flour, baking soda and cinnamon, switch to a sturdy spatula and mix everything together. Add the figs and fold until thoroughly combined and no traces of flour are showing. Spread the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 40 to 50 minutes until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. At the halfway point of baking time, loosely cover the pan with foil.
Cool the cake in the pan for 10 minutes, then run a thin knife around the sides to loosen the edges. Turn the cake out onto a wire rack placed over paper to catch drips. Let cool 10 minutes while you make the glaze. Glaze the cake while it is still warm but not piping hot.
For the glaze:
Place the buttermilk, butter, sugar, corn syrup and baking soda in saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat stirring constantly. It will be white and fluffy. Remove from the heat, stir in the vanilla and immediately brush the glaze over the cake with a pastry brush, covering the top and the sides. The glaze will sink into the cake. It doesn't harden like a frosting or a powdered sugar glaze. If the glaze begins to separate and thin out, return it to the heat until it is fluffy again, then continue brushing. Give the cake a good two layers of glaze, but you may have some left over, which is fine.
-- From therunawayspoon.com
Bell peppers galore
"My husband's grandmother used to give us black garbage bags full of bell peppers," said Pattie Necaise of Ocean Springs, Miss. "What do you do with that many bell peppers? I chopped and froze them to use later in spaghetti sauce and casseroles, but this was my go-to recipe."
CHINESE PEPPER STEAK
1-1/4 pounds round steak, cut in strips
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 medium bell peppers, cut in strips
3 tomatoes cut in wedges
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup water
Brown steak strips in skillet with cornstarch, sugar, ginger and soy sauce. Set aside. Place vegetables in skillet with garlic and water. Simmer 5 minutes or just until tender. Stir in meat mix. Heat then serve over rice.
-- Submitted by Pattie Necaise
Andrea Yeager, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and takes requests at Cook's Exchange, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi, MS 39535-4567.