orange-scented fig jam

My mother wasn’t enthusiastic about cooking when I was a kid. I always had the sense that it was just another one of her chores that she had to accomplish before night fell. The fact that cooking ended up in dirty dishes that she would then have to hand wash and dry only made it worse.

We didn’t have a dishwasher back then. We also didn’t have a clothes dryer, air conditioning, or central heat. We lived in a drafty early-1900s farmhouse with one bathroom with a clawfoot tub, a small kitchen, but with acres of outdoor space for my brother and me to explore for hours on end.

Beside my father’s studio, just to the west of the house, was an old grapevine with gnarly roots that produced gallons of muscadine grapes every summer. My brother and I played underneath that grapevine, a shady and cool vine-covered cave. When the grapes ripened, turning a purple so dark it was almost black, we harvested them for our mom to make jelly with. I recall my mother standing at the electric stove, stirring a pot of hot grapes, and straining the sweet purple liquid through cheesecloth into hot glass jelly jars. Her recollection is of sweating in the stifling heat, of working over a hot stove with the kitchen windows thrown open, but barely a breeze coming through.

A colleague at work brought me a huge bucket of brown turkey figs from his 16-year old fig tree. Thinking back to those years that my mom was into canning her own grape jelly, I decided to give it a try myself with the figs. After eating a pound or two of fresh figs, I turned the remaining four pounds of soft, ripe figs into eight jars of gorgeous jam.

I was inspired by this recipe for Drunken Fig Jam in Bon App├ętit. The flavor profile of the figs seemed to go nicely with oranges, so I swapped out the lemon the original recipe called for with some juice and zest of a navel orange. A small amount of Cointreau and a dash of cinnamon rounded out the depth of the preserved figs, giving a the jam a full-bodied flavor.

This jam, with soft bits of fig in each spoonful, served with crackers and small wedge of brie has become my new favorite snack. And, wrong or right, I’m hoarding those jars.


Yield: approx 8 1/2 pint jars

Orange-Scented Fig Jam


4 pounds ripe figs, stemmed, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
Zest of 1 large orange
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
4 cups sugar
1/3 cup Cointreau
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt


Combine figs, orange zest, orange juice, sugar, Cointreau, cinnamon, and salt in a large heavy saucepan (or dutch oven); let stand at room temperature for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Bring fig mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Reduce heat to medium and continue to boil, stirring frequently and occasionally mashing larger fig pieces, until the jam thickens and is reduced to approximately 6 cups, 30-35 minutes. Remove from heat.

Ladle mixture into 6 hot sterilized 1/2 pint glass canning jars, leaving 1/4 inch space at top of jars. Remove any air bubbles. Wipe jar threads and rims with a clean damp kitchen towel. Cover with hot lids and apply screw bands. Process jars in a pot of boiling water for 10 minutes. Remove jars carefully to cool on a kitchen towel. Cool jars completely and store in a cool dark place for up to one year.