Putting up Figs

July 22, 2020

14  comments

a happy little story

Here’s a big secret sneak peek look at what was the first go-round of cover design for my new book! It has already moved Waaaaaayyyyyy beyond this stage, but it’s still going to be in the same pop-art style.

During my stay-at-home time, I’ve been working on pulling everything together. I think this book will be even better than my first, The Majorettes are Back in Town.

Non-political and non-stressful, happy short stories seem to be in demand these days. My first book is still seeing strong sales perhaps because of all the trouble in the world. We’re being pulled back to getting lost in good clean stories — thank goodness!

I’m going to take a week or so off for some summer “fun” (Hmm . . . back yard or front yard?) But if you aren’t already following here with your email in the sidebar, please sign up so you’ll get an email notice when I return. You can also follow along on Facebook and Instagram. With a new book on the horizon, I need to build up my list of followers! – thanks for your help!

And speaking of a fun, clean story . . . Here’s this week’s column for AL.com

Putting up Figs

“I’m going to yank a knot in your tail if you shoot another bottle rocket in my fig tree.” It was the 4th of July and I was yelling across the yard to my son, who along with the rest of the town was lighting up the sky with store-bought fireworks to replace the cancelled city show. I had babied those two trees for years and they’d finally started producing the prettiest figs I’d ever seen. I was picking five pounds of fruit each day. 

Five pounds . . . I just thought I’d repeat that for emphasis. You may think that’s nothing if you have a huge fig orchard — grove — forest — jungle, but for two medium sized trees, I thought it was pretty impressive.  

Southern figs - Putting up summer figs - Leslie Anne Tarabella

Since the birds stole every one of my blueberries a few weeks earlier, I was on guard and ready to defend the figs. My finger was poised to mash the “buy now” button to order a bag of rubber snakes, but I chickened out at the last moment. Who am I kidding? Even though I knew the vipers were fake, I’d still have a heart attack every time I came eye to eye with one of their forked plastic tongues, and something tells me the birds wouldn’t be fooled anyway.

Southern figs - What to do with all those figs? Putting up summer figs - Leslie Anne Tarabella

Just when I thought I had the birds under control, our Vizsla/mixed hound, Doug, calmly trotted into the house one night and said, “Woof! Hey, y’all, there’s a large possum frolicking in the fig tree.” A hullabaloo ensued with my son grabbing a flashlight, various possum artillery, and of course, since he’s young — his phone. Doug howled and did his best to defend the crops, and I ran around the yard in my nightgown screaming, “don’t wake the neighbors!” My husband slept soundly inside, and my fig trees were stripped bare. 

My grandmother made fig preserves and although I thought they were too sweet, my husband’s grandmothers loved them. We’d take them from my Granny and give them to his Nana and Mimi in sort of a geriatric fig preserve laundering operation. But like them or not, I came up short for making my own preserves because I never learned to “can” or “put up” things. Gazing at the colorful glass quilt of shimmering jars on granny’s pantry shelves made me think canning was an art. I was correct. 

Fig and goat cheese appetizer. Southern figs - Putting up summer figs - Leslie Anne Tarabella
Figs mixed with blackberries, strawberries, goat cheese and balsamic glaze.

I gave some figs to friends, then froze some whole to use later in smoothies and Mediterranean style recipes. We also ate them freshly picked, with a sprinkling of goat cheese and balsamic vinegar. With the rest, I made a sugar-free puree like applesauce, and froze it to use later in place of oil in baking. But first, I tried the art of canning.

Frozen fig puree - no sugar added, healthy alternative to fig preserves. Southern figs - Putting up summer figs - Leslie Anne Tarabella

I called my cousin, Marolyn, the home economics teacher, for advice. “Boil the lids, clean the jars, fill them, then submerge in boiling water.” At least that’s what I thought she said. It seemed to work, but a few days later, the jars started gurgling and oozing pink puree resulting in yet another fig-related hullabaloo, this time in the kitchen. I think I’m a kinesthetic learner and need hands-on instruction. 

It’s a hot mess to crawl through scratchy fig leaves in July, but the fruit is worth it, despite the birds, bugs, bottle rockets and beady-eyed varmints. 

Thanks for reading!
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  1. Can’t wait for your new book! Oh wow, fig trees! They will grow very big, so hopefully you have room where they are planted. My dad loved figs to make preserves so you have to get the canning down. You know you don’t have to put them in a water bath. Cook your figs and sugar after washing and soaking. Then just put them in jars and listen for the lids to pop then you’ll know they’ve sealed. I know you will love cooking and baking with your figs….

    1. This method sounds much easier. I don’t know where I went wrong. I’m going to have to get cousin Marolyn to come back and show me step-by-step what to do! Thanks Emily.

      1. I’m sorry, You know what it means to assume anything. I ASSUMED you knew to cook them first before putting in the jars. ??.yes we will have to have a gig party next year

        1. Ha! Don’t you know Harrisons don’t take directions very well? ! It was the puree I made in the food processor, so I didn’t cook it first. Sorry. you need to come visit and stand watch over me next time. Thanks for the effort anyway. Sad to know I’d fail your class even with the extra points for being a relative.

  2. In my book, I detailed making fig preserves according to GENEVA. It is not hard, and it always works. Geneva always added a thinly sliced lemon to each batch, but I have found that oranges or limes are also good. Without citrus, it seems to be missing someting, according to my taste buds. My trees are young, but they are loaded this year. This far inland, they are not ready till later in August. Be sure to cut off the woody stems! I had one late cousin, bless her heart, who always left those in and did not use any citrus either, so obviously they were inedible. I also have a great recipe for fig cake, one for fig cobbler with cheddar crust, and another for fig jam. If you would like any of those, let me know,

  3. Oh, I wish I had a fig tree! Can’t wait for your new book! Anything you do is interesting. I like the pop art cover!

  4. I must admit , I don’t like fresh figs . Fig Newtons are ok . Then a few years after my dad moved in , he brought home two little fig plants . That’s when I learned he loved figs ! Finally, the little things grew six feet tall and bore fruit . He had a great time collecting the figs the first year . Next year was an over loaded tree full of figs . He asked if I could put some up for winter . I had no idea ! Soon he found an easy recipe, using any flavor jello . The figs looked & tasted like strawberry jello , but he enjoyed it . He liked eating them fresh, although I thought they looked too gross to eat . Years went by and our first grand-daughter loved to pretend she was in a castle . Reading your memories about figs , gave me a special moment .
    Thanks for sharing your heartwarming thoughts or memories . Looking forward to reading your new book !!

    1. What great memories! Was your granddaughter’s castle beneath the fig tree? It makes a great place to play. I know many people combine figs with strawberry and they love it. I have to admit it took a while for me to like figs straight off the tree. Thanks for the note!

    1. Thanks Jenna. The artwork has moved a bit beyond what I’ve shown, but it’s still in the same style. I’ll need to write about 20 books before I really get the hang of it.

  5. Oh boy, oh boy…can’t wait for your book! We need some sweet stories right now. I would have paid good money to watch the Great Fig Caper! The trick to those sweet fig preserves is to put enough salted butter on your biscuits to cut the sweet!!!

    1. Now you’re talking! Buttery biscuits with fig preserves sounds wonderful. And of course, since I wouldn’t eat my grandmother’s preserves, now that she’s gone, I’d eat a whole jar with a spoon if I could have her here to make them for me again! And yes . . . the night of the possum was crazy. My neighbors swore they didn’t hear a thing, but I don’t see how!

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