First things first: I know that figs are not considered entirely vegan. During pollination the female fig wasp gets trapped inside the flower and is consumed by the plant as the tree creates a fig around the body of the wasp. The wasp’s sacrifice results in the plant being pollinated, and the fig being formed, and there is no trace of her left by the time the fig gets to the consumer.
Organic Authority has this to say on the subject:
So… Are They Vegan?
The answer as to whether figs are vegan or not is more personal than anything else. Some vegans and even some vegetarians refuse to eat figs or fig-based products based on this odd — but entirely natural! — phenomenon.
In essence, the argument boils down to the idea of cruelty. The relationship between figs and fig wasps is a symbiotic, entirely natural one. Fig wasps need figs, and figs need fig wasps. Neither would continue to thrive without the other. Because of this natural relationship, many vegetarians and vegans choose to consume figs. Whether or not you choose to integrate them into your diet is entirely up to you.
I personally am happy to consume figs, they are after all a fruit, with seeds, that has evolved a sweet outer case to be consumed in order for the seeds to be distributed for more plants to thrive. The poor female fig wasp’s demise is just an unfortunate part of that perfectly natural cycle, and she has long since been digested by the plant before the fig gets to our dining tables.
Now that’s out of the way: this recipe is my first preserve of the year, Hurray! and I’ve taken it from a book given to me by my oldest friend for Christmas. Neatly wrapped and packaged alongside gifts for my children and sent in the post to arrive well in time for the big day, with quirky brussel sprout wrapping paper and beautifully hand written tags. She’s so organised and I just don’t deserve her. So this one is dedicated to lovely Sarah. I hope you like marmalade!
I love preserving things, I love it so much that I have to give jars of jellies and jams and pickles away all the time, not just at Christmas… but it also means I never need to buy preserves from the supermarket, which just don’t compare to the home made creations. Theres always a surprising jar of something sweet or vinegary lurking in a box in my store cupboard for when my marmalade or chutney runs out. The only things you need to get preserving are a few clean jars, a large pan, a ladle or two, a jam funnel is pretty handy, maybe some muslin squares, some time, a sense of calm, the radio, and a little attention to detail. It really is a satisfying and relaxing thing to do, so maybe try this one and make it your first preserve.
I’ve tweaked things, as I usually do, by replacing some of the sugar with honey (again, not vegan, so can be swapped back if you prefer) and adding a splash of brandy, but the recipe essentially belongs to Gloria Nicol, from her book 100 Jams, Jellies, Preserves and Pickles, (Just my sort of book) so please check out her blog. I hope to be as creative and skilled as Gloria, and as organised as my friend Sarah, one day.
I was drawn to this recipe as it uses dried figs, and having bought 3 kilos of dried figs on a wholesale whim quite a while ago, anything which makes good use of them is a winner with me. Dried figs are much easier to get hold of all year round, so this is a recipe to keep you occupied when there’s no seasonal glut to be dealing with. I love how this turned out.
Makes 1.5kg of marmalade, about 6 medium jars.
- 3 unwaxed lemons (£1.50)
- 450g of dried figs (£3.55)
- 1200ml of water
- 1kg of sugar or 800g of sugar and 200g of honey (£2.20)
- 3 tbsp of Brandy (or whiskey if you prefer) (85p)
After the first few steps the figs and lemon need 16-24 hours to soak before you complete the marmalade, so consider what you’ll be doing tomorrow when you start this recipe.First, cut the lemons in half lengthways and then slice them finely, being careful to remove all the pips and keep them to one side, you’ll need them later. Put the half circle lemon slices in a large heavy bottomed preserving pan. Then take the stalks off the figs and slice or quarter them, depending on how chunky you’d like your marmalade, and add them to the pan too. I quartered mine, but being quite old and tough they did not break apart during cooking as much as I’d hoped, so I ended up slicing them up further once the marmalade was boiling – which was a complete pain.Collect the lemon pips up into a square of muslin, tie tightly with string and pop that into the pan with the lemons and figs,
Cover the lemons and figs and the muslin pouch with 1200ml of water, put a clean tea towel over the whole pan and leave for 16-24 hours to soak. If you feel so inclined, go back every now and then and poke the muslin pouch with a wooden spoon, it’ll get the pectin moving and is quite a satisfying thing to do.After 24 hours the figs should have plumped up a lot. Bring the pan slowly to the boil and simmer for 1-1.5 hours, until the lemons have softened and turned translucent and some of the figs have begun to break apart.
Take the pan off the heat and add the sugar (and honey), stir to dissolve the sugar and then put the pan back on the heat to simmer again. Meanwhile, prepare your clean jars, and lids, the jars will need to be sterilised in the oven or in a dishwasher, and the lids can be scalded with boiling water once you are ready to jar the marmalade up.
Add the brandy to the marmalade and continue to boil it until it reaches a setting point, this can take any amount of time between 20 minutes and 1.5 hours… watch this video to find out here how to test for that if you’re not sure.
Once your marmalade has reached setting point, turn off the heat, take your jars out of the oven and wait 5 minutes before you ladle it into the hot jars – trust me, you don’t want a jar to crack, and hot marmalade to ooze all over your work surface – I’ve done it before, so you don’t have to!
Then screw the scalded lids on tight and leave to cool.
This marmalade has a very rich and dark sweetness with a slightly bitter tang from the lemons, it is excellent on your morning toast, but would also be good used with savoury foods, as part of a ploughman’s lunch or to add a sweet dimension to a vegetable tart.
This recipe works out at around £1.35 per jar. Organic dried figs can be really expensive, so if you don’t have any lying about like I did, make your way to a whole food store where you can buy them by weight, often a lot cheaper. Still, £1.35 is not a bad price for something quite special, which you’d be very lucky to find at a farmer’s market or specialist grocers for an awful lot more..