Before I get started with fiendish figs, let me say that my fiendish feline is extremely excited. See, because at this time of year everyone hangs up cardboard cut-outs or pictures of black cats, or has light up black cat figurines, and because stores are selling stuffed black cats & black cat costumes, etc, she thinks October is Arwyn Awareness month. Silly muffin. She thinks she should get royalties for all her likenesses out there. Though I must say, I do agree, she does deserve accolades & recognition… just look at how gorgeous she is! Coincidentally, last week it was her 9th birthday. I know, she doesn’t look 9! Happy birthday, sweet girl. ❤
And so the Halloween season starts. SO EXCITING. By now, if you’re a regular reader, you know that Halloween is my most favoritest holiday. Last year, I put together a compilation post of some of my best Halloween ideas, but I did it before I posted any new ones, so be sure to check out the NEW compilation post and also Halloween category if you’re in search of ideas. Anyway, Halloween & me are BFF’s from way back. Seriously. I’m kinda obsessed with this holiday. It goes back further than me, though, it was my great-grandmother Rooney’s favorite holiday & my maternal grandparents loved it too, so in turn my mother always loved it. So growing up my house was always filled with different kinds of papier-mâché pumpkins & ghosts & goblins; many of which were vintage, handed down through the generations. As a matter of fact I see much of it in Martha’s Halloween magazines each year, labeled as ‘rare’ or ‘sought after.’ I have two pumpkins from the 1940’s that hang in my windows with lights in them that are probably worth a pretty penny. Not that I’d ever sell. As it is, my dumb ass just last week broke the last jadeite bowl of my grandmother’s that I had left in an act of stupidity.
So anywho, in the new 2011 Martha Stewart Halloween magazine (aka my 2nd bible, the first being this), stewed & honey-drenched figs are featured along with cheese as part of a Halloween menu. Ironically, the day I bought the magazine *cough*way back at the beginning of September because I’m insane*cough* I had also bought a delicious looking pound of fresh figs at my favorite market. Also equally ironic was that that evening, Punk Domestics posted a link on Facebook titled something along the lines of “Fig it up.” Hm. Were figs trying to send me messages? Are they trying to mess with my subconscious?
*cue theme from ‘Psycho’*
Not likely. It was just fig season, is all. But my story is far creepier. Either way, I got the message: time to work on those figs!
I hadn’t planned on preserving them, bit upon further inspection a few were ripening, and if you know figs you know that happens quite quickly. And once it does, it’s an express train to no-good town. So I decided to make some fig preserves, knowing full well I can’t leave well enough alone & that they would soon turn into something else…
The Common fig (Ficus carica) is widely known for its edible fruit throughout its natural range in the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern region, Iran, Pakistan, northern India, and also in other areas of the world with a similar climate, including Arkansas, Louisiana, California, Georgia, Oregon, Texas, South Carolina, and Washington in the United States, south-western British Columbia in Canada, Durango, Nuevo León and Coahuila in northeastern Mexico, as well as areas of Argentina, Australia, Chile, and South Africa.
Figs can also be found in continental climate with hot summer, as far north as Hungary and Moravia, and can be harvested up to four times per year. Thousands of cultivars, most named, have been developed or come into existence as human migration brought the fig to many places outside its natural range. It has been an important food crop for thousands of years, and was also thought to be highly beneficial in the diet.
Figs can be eaten fresh or dried, and used in jam-making. Most commercial production is in dried or otherwise processed forms, since the ripe fruit does not transport well, and once picked does not keep well.
It looks lovely in the sunlight…
As it got closer to October, I thought figs were an appropriate thing to use around this time of year. Seeing as how not only are they plentiful & in season, but they also look a bit sinister in the form of jam or preserves. Blood red & seedy, it could be any kind of body part or bodily organ in a jar for your Halloween pleasure. As a matter of fact, even when not in the form of preserves & just sliced figs look a bit strange. Plus, it pairs well with cheese, so it’s great to have a small plate of sliced figs or jar of preserved figs open for your Halloween party, with some Humboldt Fog cheese (as Martha recommends) or Brie, or even Mascarpone cheese & crackers. Alternately, you could make haunting little fig cookies, such as I did. You know, fiendish figlets; cookies somewhat like Fig Newtons… but scarier. Muahahaha. They even resemble cut-up fingers, sort of, especially if you roll your dough strips a bit thinner. Very Halloweenie. And also kind of vampirical (is that a word?) when you think about it. You cut through the flesh of a fig, which if ripe is almost bruised like human flesh, and you get to the bloody middle. How creepy & morbid am I!
I used Black Mission figs, which are a very sweet variety, therefore I added some lemon juice to my preserves as to add a little balance (and to add some acidity for preservation, just to err on the side of caution). I also chose to add a smidgen of super-finely chopped crystallized ginger, and by smidgen I mean smidgen. I didn’t want it too overwhelming, just a slight hint of it. Another excellent option is anise, if you like that, or even lemon zest. But just the fig alone is divine, however, so don’t sweat it if you’re not into the additions. I used (and slightly altered) an incredibly easy Emeril Lagasse recipe that you don’t need to process in a water bath; you can just jar it and refrigerate it for immediate use. And if you’re using it just for the cookies or for a date/time not too far in the future, and you’re just going to refrigerate it, then you can do that.
Speaking of those cookies…
It’s also pretty lovely in artificial light, wrapped in dough.
FIG & GINGER PRESERVES
- 1 pound figs, washed
- 1 cup sugar
- ⅛ cup lemon juice
- ¼ – ½ teaspoon finely chopped crystallized ginger (or even more if you want a significantly more powerful ginger flavor)
- In a medium saucepan, mix figs and sugar together and cook on low heat, uncovered, about 30 minutes. After the figs break down slightly, about 10-15 minutes, add lemon juice and ginger, then stir.
- If processing, pour hot preserves mixture into a hot, sterile 1-quart or 2 (1-pint) glass canning jars, filling jar to within ⅛-inch from top; wipe rim and seal jar with lid. Put jar in water-bath canner or on rack set in a deep kettle and cover with hot water by 1 to 2 inches. Bring to a gentle simmer (180° to 185° degrees), and process, covered, 5 minutes. Transfer jar to a rack using tongs and let cool completely. Store in a cool, dark place. If not processing, pour into a warmed jar and cool then refrigerate and/or use immediately.
FIENDISH LITTLE FIG COOKIES (adapted from The Boastful Baker/Desserts by the Yard by Sherry Yard)
- 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ teaspoon grated orange zest
- 1 large egg white
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 8-oz. jar fig & ginger preserves
- Cream together the butter, sugar and orange zest in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, for 2-3 minutes on medium speed. Scrape down the bowl and paddle. Add the egg white and vanilla and beat in. Scrape down the bowl and paddle again. Add the flour and beat on low speed until the dough comes together. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for a minimum of 2 hours, or overnight.
- Place racks in middle and lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350° degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
- On a floured surface, roll the dough out into two 6 x 8″ rectangles. Cut each into 4 equal strips. Spoon a line of filling down the center of each strip. Fold the dough over the filling and pinch the edges together. Place on the parchment-lined baking sheets, seam side down. Place baking sheets in the freezer for 10 minutes.
- Using a serrated knife, slice each log on the diagonal into 10 cookies. Bake, rotating the baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through, for 12-15 minutes, until golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a rack.
The more I look at them, the more they look eerie. Maybe it’s just me, but they remind me of a Halloween candle I used to have that was in the shape of a hand, coated in flesh colored wax, but then when you burned the fingers… the wax inside was red. These are some spooky little cookies, huh?
This recipe can be adapted to use whatever kind of figs you have, actually almost any kind of jam, preserves or paste (i.e. guava) as well. The full recipe includes directions on making a fig filling instead of my preserves, if that floats your boat. I like mine for this time of year because they’re a redder color than the traditional fig filling, adding to the creepy vibe. You could also roll the dough into strips, fill it, fold it and them gently roll it thinner & cut out different shapes or just use the dough to make thumbprint style fig cookies. Use your imagination, that’s what this time of year is all about, isn’t it?
I sprinkled some orange sugar on each cookie before baking (black sugar would work well too!), and then when they were cooled, I stacked ‘em up and stuck in some cute little labels; similar to cupcake toppers I guess. I created them myself in Photoshop and have oh-so-kindly prepared & uploaded a .PDF file for your use, should you wish to use them for your own fiendish fig cookies. All I ask is that if you post them on your website or blog, please give credit where it’s due. If you have any questions or trouble with the PDF & you desperately want to use it, e-mail me & I’ll see if I can help you out.
Otherwise… enjoy eating your fiendish fig cookies. Eat them before they eat you, or serve them to your favorite vampire.
Image courtesy of the wonderful HBO
*ahem* Oh, wow, how did that picture get there? Ha. Okay, last week in my Halloween compilation post, I mentioned I’d be sharing Halloween legends & their Celtic origins in detail this year. And so, here’s a scary little vampire tale for you to kick things off, in keeping with the season:
Did you ever hear of the Irish Vampire “Dearg Due”? No, not the infamous Dracula who was created by an Irishman named Bram Stoker but a true Irish Vampire that haunts central Ireland. The very name, Dearg-due means “red blood sucker” in Irish. She is a fiend that seduces men with her beauty and then sucks them dry of their blood.
Ancient Celtic folklore speaks of an Irish girl well known through the Irish countryside for her great beauty. To her father’s fierce dismay she fell helplessly in love with a poor local peasant. Her father condemned their love and arrange for her to marry a wealthy business man who was anything but nice to her. So angry with her father and distraught by her plight she committed suicide.
Legend said she was laid to rest near Strongbow’s Tree in Waterford. On one cold, windy Irish night she rose from her shallow grave. She then hunted her domineering father and abusive husband and sought her vengeance by sucking their bodies dry of blood until they took their last breathe and died.
From such evil acts she will eternally be known as Dearg-due. The Red Blood Sucker Vampire who is forever dammed to rise once a year and to use her beauty to lure men to their deaths.