by Rob Nichols, Contributing WriterRob Nichols
To make about 2 cups of fig preserves, start out with 8 ounces of dried Calimyrna figs and 2 ounces of dried Black Mission Figs. You can use all Calimyrnas, but the Mission Figs add a little flavor and contrast. By themselves however, Mission figs do not have as much flavor.
Cut the stem end off each fig and roughly chop each one into 4 to 6 pieces. Put these in a sauce pan with 1 cup of water, 1/2 cup of sugar and a strip of orange peel (without the white pith).
Bring to a boil and simmer uncovered for about 10 minutes until soft. Cover the pan and let them steep until fairly cool. Later, remove the orange peel and dump the shiny fig pieces into a food processor (or blender or hand chop) and pulse until you have a rough but spreadable jam. As an alternative to the orange, I've also used a sprig of rosemary with good effect.
If you are curious about the history and ecology of food, figs are fascinating. They've been cultivated since at least 3000 BC, starting in Egypt or Arabia, and from there spread throughout the Mediterranean to become a staple food, prized for their sugar content. The production of Calimyrna figs, which are the most widely grown variety in California, is completely dependent on one species of small gnat-sized wasp for pollination, and this fig wasp must spend part of its life cycle on wild fig trees that are grown near the fig orchards.