Blackberry-Fig Preserves

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Besides mosquitos and morning glories, about the only thing thriving in my garden this hot, sticky summer is my fig tree.

The cherries got 95% wiped out by ill-timed, early-June torrential rain and whipping winds; July’s grapes were all lost to the birds; and this month’s near-daily drenchings have left most of the tomatoes that don’t have blossom-end rot with giant splits and cracks.

Sadly, my blackberry canes were hit hard, too. Irregular water, spotty sun, and an abundance of Japanese beetles left me with just a couple scruffy, scant quarts.

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Yields this year allowed for two pints of black-and-blue jam, a peach-blackberry mini-pie, and now this new concoction. Fruit gardening ain’t for those who need certainty.

But the figs? For some reason, they just keep coming. And on the orchard ladder, looking up into the tree and then down into the sparse berry patch, I wondered if I couldn’t use the former to stretch the latter.

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Yes, sometimes inspiration strikes at the top of a very sticky ladder.
Blackberry-Fig Preserves
  • 16 oz blackberries (a scant quart)
  • 12 oz figs (volume will vary by size, but I used about a pint)
  • 10 oz granulated sugar (that’s just about 1-1/4 cups)
  • juice of a small lemon
  • two sprigs thyme

yields roughly one pint of finished product

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A mini-batch to test proportions turned out too sweet for my tastes, so I cut back from my usual 2:1 by-weight fruit:sugar ratio. This year’s figs were supersweet, but I suspect the bigger factor was that I didn’t discount for the weight lost when I deseeded the berries.

Prep the Fruit

Set freshly rinsed berries in a small saucepan over medium heat. Toss in a spoonful of sugar, and stir frequently for three to five minutes, until the berries have softened a little and are starting to give off their juices.

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Mash them lightly, then press them through a strainer, Chinois, or food mill to extract the seeds and cores. Keep the pulpy juice; discard the seeds. (Confession: every time I make my blackberry-bourbon jam, I make a point of saving the gooey, seedy stuff, thinking I’ll mix it into a smoothy. I find it green and fuzzy three months later. I now skip that step.)

Rinse and de-stem the figs, slice them into quarters, and then give them a light chop if you like chunkier jam— or mince away if you prefer a finer texture.

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Combine the blackberry juice, chopped figs, and sugar in a sealable container, give it all a good stir, add the thyme sprigs, and put it in the fridge for at least four hours (I left mine overnight).

Make the Preserves

Sterilize about a pint’s worth of jars and lids. If you’re a canning newby—or just need a refresher—see Marisa’s Canning 101 or Ball’s guidelines.

Over medium-high heat in a shallow, wide skillet (bigger surface area → faster evaporation → quicker set → fresher flavor), bring the fruit mixture to a rapid boil. Ratchet the temperature down to keep the fruit mixture bubbling steadily without foaming all over the place. Stir frequently for 12 to 15 minutes, until you can drag your spoon through the mixture and the channel it creates takes a few seconds to fill back in.

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For easier cleanup, use a non-stick pan.

Remove from heat, fish out and discard the thyme stems, and stir in the lemon juice. A quick note: Blackberries are just below the 4.6 benchmark pH for canning acid foods, but figs are well above it, so the lemon here provides a safety-boosting goose of acidity before preserving. As a bonus, it also brightens the flavor.

Funnel the mixture into prepared jars (leave a 1/4-inch of headspace), wipe the rims with a clean towel, apply the lids/rings, and process in a boiling-water canning bath for 10 minutes.

Remove the jars from the canner and cool completely on a folded dishtowel. If any jars fail to seal properly, stick ’em in the fridge and eat from those first. The others should be good for up to a year.

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Lower-sugar preserves tend to have a shorter life, so I used smaller jars that, once opened, will get used up quicker. Unopened jars should last a year in a cool, dark spot, but I’m thinking these won’t survive this year’s Christmas thumbprint cookies.

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