Ode to Ethel & Fred: Old Fashioned Whole Fig Preserves with Lemon


Although I grew up overseas, every summer my parents would bring us to the states for 4 to 6 weeks.  Most of that time was spent with my grandparents, Ethel and Fred, in a small town in central Louisiana that was just north of Alexandria.  My grandfather maintained a garden year-round, so every summer my grandmother spent hours and hours in her little bity kitchen, canning, preserving, and freezing the produce that Fred harvested.

The figs, however, were something that Ethel picked.  The fig tree was located just behind the house, so that it was protected from the north wind.  Every day, Ethel looked at that fig tree outside her kitchen window, watching the figs swell and ripen every year.  She would pick the figs in a very large bucket, and spend a few days canning and processing them.  I do not have her exact recipe, but I know exactly how they should taste and look.  One of the keys to getting your figs to stay whole is to pick them when they are just ripe.  If they are starting to brown, which is how they ripen, they are too ripe for whole figs.   If you look in this photo, you will see the differences in colors of the figs.  The darker ones fell apart; the greener ones maintained their plum shape.

Not everyone adds lemon to their fig preserves, but Ethel did, so I do too.  I always loved to eat the candied lemons.  I also usually leave the stems on.  They get candied too, and still make for good eating.

If you have questions about canning and preserving, the USDA has guidelines online which can help answer your questions.   I usually use an 8 ounce jar for my preserves, and process them in a waterbath for 15 minutes (rolling boil).  Ethel always used pint jars, and I believe that those need to be processed for 25 minutes.

You will need:

4 pounds fresh just ripe figs
5 cups sugar
2 large or 3 small lemons


Combine the figs, sugar, and lemon slices in a non-reactive pot (the one you will cook them in), and let sit overnight.  The next morning, the sugar will be dissolved, giving you a nice syrup to begin cooking the figs.

Bring the figs to a boil, and let simmer for a while.  It takes a good 40 minutes to 1 hour to get the figs cooked down just right.    What’s just right?  A syrup that sheets off the wooden spoon, and a nice caramel color.

Fill the jars, wipe the glass sides with a clean towel, put the tops on.  Add the rings, and tighten loosely.

Process in a water bath for 15 minutes for an 8 ounce jar, 25 minutes for a pint jar.

Remove from water bath, transfer to a towel-lined counter and let cool.  You should immediately start to hear the lids “pop” as they cool down.


Bring on the biscuits!











2 thoughts on “Ode to Ethel & Fred: Old Fashioned Whole Fig Preserves with Lemon

  1. Hey Kathy,
    I have Mama’s recipe. It is very similar, but there is a step with soda and boiling water at the beginning. I will find it and send you a copy. She had copied it out from Southern Living magazine, but it is just like the way she always made it.

    • Thank you! I actually had a very hard time finding a recipe for whole fig preserves when I started making these a few years ago. Most recipes are for the jam. Not the same!

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