We had a glut of figs on our hands.
The seemingly ancient fig tree that has overtaken an entire side of my grandfather's garage was ready, heavy with figs and buzzing with bees looking to get in on the harvest.
So we grabbed a ladder, and started making plans for these figs.
I don't think I realized it as a child, but my grandfather's place is a goldmine of fruit. The fig trees have grown as tall as a house, arbors of scuppernongs and other deeply Southern grape varieties slowly drape themselves across the yard, and I can recall feeding cows half-fermented pears (or was it apples?) that I had picked off the ground near his garden. Pecans rain down all over the driveway and yard, and chestnut burrs have always made themselves known to our bare feet as we ran around the yard. Punctuated with a (very real) fear of fire ants, which always seem to congregate around these treasured sites of outdoor feasting, Alabama always presented me with the danger and joy of picking home-grown fruit.
Waking up in Alabama on a summer day is incomplete without two things: first, the steady rise of humidity on the air, and second; some form of fresh-picked piece of fruit, grown by someone you know. Breakfast at my grandparents' table might be one of my earliest memories; one day, it might be an improbably large bowl of the most tender slices of peach, sparkling with a layer of sugar. The next, it could be the sight of a spoon dripping with the syrup from a jar of strawberry preserves (pure gold to me) as it drags across a slice of toast. One day I hope to replicate the true joy of eating homemade strawberry preserves on toast, one of those serious flavor memories that all of us have. But I save that for another day. Today, we try to use up the prolific fig crop for dessert.
Vegan Coconut-Cardamom Ice Cream with Fig Jam Topping
Adapted from The Kitchn's vegan ice cream base recipe.
Coconut-Cardamom Ice Cream Base
2 cans full-fat coconut milk
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup maple syrup or agave nectar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
Fig Jam Topping
1-2 cups of fresh figs
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup bourbon of your choosing
1/4 cup room-temperature water
Optional splash of lemon juice
Ice cream machine
Ice, and lots of it
- Combine coconut milk (reserving 1/2 cup), maple syrup and salt in a saucepan. Warm the mixture on low, stirring constantly.
- Combine remaining coconut milk and cornstarch in a small bowl. Add to warmed mixture in saucepan, continuing to stir.
- Reduce the coconut milk and cornstarch mixture until it coats a spoon, taking up to 15 minutes. Patience is key on this one.
- Add the almond extract and cardamom.
- Remove the mixture from heat, bringing it to room temperature in a shallow casserole dish. Place the base in the refrigerator to cool.
- Meanwhile, mix together 1-2 cups of fresh figs, halved with stems and ends removed, in a saucepan with the bourbon and sugar. Heat on medium until reduced to a slightly thickened consistency.
- Test doneness of fig jam by putting small amount of the mixture on a plate, letting rest at room temperature for 2-3 minutes, and then tilting. It should be thick enough to move slowly as you tilt, rather than dripping loosely as a liquid.
- Remove fig jam topping from stove, placing in heatproof bowl to cool.
- Prepare the ice cream machine with the ice and rock salt. Add base to ice cream machine until thickened. Freeze for another 1-2 hours or more, until closer to serving time.
- Add 1/4 cup of water as needed, adjusting for your preferred consistency, to the fig mixture and stir. Serve as topping for ice cream.
To be frank with you, this recipe nearly didn't happen. I made the mistake (but one that I don't regret) of making a true, thick jam out of the figs and dumping it into the ice cream machine. As someone (who is not me) might expect, it turned into a delicious, burgundy-colored rock as soon as it hit the bucket.
So I re-evaluated, dejectedly removed the fig jam (now a gourmet jawbreaker) from the ice cream, and re-heated it on the stove, thinning it out with some water. In the future, if I wanted the fig incorporated into the ice cream, rather than served as either a jawbreaker or a jammy topping, I'd just make a purée like everybody else. There's a reason why that's how it's done.
The seedy sweetness of the figs, maybe just edging over their peak of ripeness, gave us one of the most perfect jams I've ever had.
Maybe next time I'll eat it on toast, when I wake up in the morning.