Brown Turkey Figs, Tomatoes, Herbs, and Preserving it All
Brown Turkey Fig
My two Brown Turkey Fig bushes in a photo taken this spring. I can tell it’s a Spring photo because of the number of dandelions. I’m going to go with the excuse that I left them for the bees, but my neighbors would quickly point out that the dandelions far preceeded the apiary.
Now that August is here, the figs are in full swing the honeybees have no interest in dandelions anyway, they are feasting on the figs that I miss and get over ripe on the bushes. Pollen and nectar are spotty to scarce so the bees delight in pulling sugar straight from the figs which will be converted into honey once back in the hive. As fall approaches they become more aggressive about packing their hives with resources, i.e. honey and pollen, to sustain them through the winter.
Anyway these bushes are powerhouses that are several years old but really just started coming into their own last Summer (2020) when they produced 22 pounds of figs between the two of them. As of this writing (August 23, 2021) they have produced 20 pounds so far and are on track to beat last year’s number.
So what do you do with 20+ pounds of figs? I’m glad you asked, let’s check it out.
Raw & Dried
Figs are great right off the bush. In fact many of mine never make it to the scale so the harvest numbers I gave above are probably skewed low. Figs are relatively low in calories, packed with fiber, and a good source of daily potassium. Their high sugar content means they have a natural sweetness that needs little augmentation from refined white sugar. As such they can be eaten plain, doused in cream or honey, blended or served atop a bit of ice cream just to name a few possibilities. A favorite midday meal, for me, during the heat of the summer is sliced tomatoes from the garden topped wth a wedge of mozarella, fresh basil, and then drizzled with either straight olive oil or my honey – olive oil vinaigreitte. A side of a few halved figs provides a sweet complement to the dish.
Dried, figs are a sweet treat that resembles a dried date. A great snacking food or participant in homemade trail mix they provide a nice pick me up in the form of fructose carbohydrates.
Fig butter, like other fruit butters, is a mixture of spices, fruit, and added sugar cooked down into a preserves. It can traditionally have butter added to it to make it smoother, I however choose not to. I also limit the added sugar since the figs are already sweet and I am diabetic. I know, I know – if I’m diabetic I shouldn’t be eating them at all. That being said I do enjoy them, but only in moderation.
This method of cooking down and preserving fruit is easy to do and lends itself well to other choices such as apple, strawberry, and peach. All make delicious preserves.
Did you know that fig leaves can be dried and made into a tea? Fig leaves are high in calcium and phosporous and at least one small double-blind study showed a potential benefit in controlling glucose levels and reducing the need for insulin when drank regularly. To see the abstract for that study click HERE
Canned my first tomatoes of the season, almost two gallons. Deer tore through my blossoming plants early in the season so I am behind, but it was still a good haul.
Canning tomatoes is a labor intensive process I learned as a child from my grandmother. My grandparents had a “garden” that took up about two acres; and grew a multitude of vegetables. I was far older than I should have been when I found out vegetables can be packed in metal cans. I had only ever seen them in Mason jars.
Here (top picture) you see my San Marzano and Roma tomatoes which are small dense fruits that are very meaty and designed to be used for cooking with a rich, heavy tomato taste.
If you are interested in canning or processing fruits there are plenty of how-to books on the subject as well as internet sites with instructions and videos. My goal here is not to instruct how these things were accomplished, but rather share my activities in the blog. Canning should always be performed under the most sanitary conditions possible, with defect free jars, unused lids, and the best possible disease free fruit. Canning times, procedures, and guidelines can be found in many sites such as this one from the University of Minnesota Extension Office.
To can tomatoes they are first dunked in hot (but not boiling) water for several minutes which causes the fruit to swell in the skin. Then transfer them directly into an ice-bath, which causes the fruit to shrink rapidly and loosens the skin. From there I usually cut off the stem end of the fruit and squeeze the pulpy tomato flesh out of the skin, which is discarded.
From there the skinned tomatoes are cooked down, then ladled hot into canning jars along with an additional acid source and salt added to each jar. Lemon juice is often recommended, but I prefer lime. It has a higher acid content, and we always seem to have it on hand becuase of, you know, margaritas.
It is a time consuming process and I find it elicits an almost trance or meditative state from the repetitive nature of the operation. Music and good conversation can help break the monotony.
It can be oddly peaceful as well. I use it to think and reflect on all manner of things as the fruits pile up in the pot and the skins in the bin marked for compost. I find that because the skins can take some time to break down, and they add an acidity that my soil doesn’t need, I reserve them for around my azalea and rose bushes or my garlic bed.
For a thorough list of plants that love acidic soil check out this site.
Just took my last cutting of herbs this week. Rosemary and sage are all that are left. I will probably save a bit for seasoning, however I have several friends who smudge and they have requested herb bundles, so I am trying my hand at making them this year. My chives stay with me year round so I just cut those fresh when I need them. In addition I cut some fig leaves to try the fig leaf tea I discussed above.
I have a dehydrator, but I only use it for jerky or for drying fruits and vegetables. I like my dehydrator and it does very well for me, but for delicate herbs I prefer the old fashioned method of hanging them. This (top picture) is my east facing kitchen window with rosemary, sage, and the fig ‘tea’ leaves hanging in it. It doesn’t get much sun because the Rose of Sharon bush outside, despite being pruned back heavily this spring, has grown up and blocked much of it. I will remember next year to really scalp it. The flowers are lovely, but it grows like a weed, blocking my kitchen window and sometimes encroaching on the AC compressor.
Next post should hopefully be an update on the honeybees and harvesting some honey.
Thanks for reading ‘Brown Turkey Figs, Tomatoes, Herbs, and Preserving it All’, and here’s to your bountiful earth magic.